A concerned campaigner fears polluted mine water could damage the South Tyneside coastline after an environment protection scheme went into operation.
The Coal Authority has set up a pumping station at the former Whitburn Colliery site in a bid to prevent water from the area’s disused coastal pits seeping through limestone rock beneath the surface and contaminating drinking water supplies to 30,000 residents in South Tyneside and Sunderland.
Environmentalist Bob Latimer, 72, has battled the plans for more than two years – insisting the water should be treated before being discharged into the sea to ensure it does not contain pollutants.
Concerns had previously been raised that contaminants from the old workings, such as salts and irons, could have a serious impact on sea and plant life in the area.
The new scheme, which came into operation last week, takes water from the abandoned workings and pumps it 230 metres out to sea – beyond the low-tide level, where it is dispersed by natural processes.
Mr Latimer says the project is a cheap fix and says extra resources should have been invested into a water treatment system.
Mr Latimer said: “I am totally against it.
“There are similar programmes at Horden and Dawden but in both cases they treat the water there before it goes out to sea.
“This should also be the case in Whitburn.
“It shouldn’t just be discharged into the sea.
“For waste to just be dumped out in the sea in this day and age is totally unacceptable.”
The Coal Authority says that if left unmanaged, the water could make its way into overlying aquifers, which leads to the contamination of important sources of drinking water.
Tracey Davies, head of environment at the Coal Authority, said: “The Whitburn aquifer protection scheme protects the drinking water source for thousands of homes and businesses in South Tyneside and Sunderland.
“The protection scheme deals with a much smaller loading of iron than the existing installations on the Durham coast at Dawdon and Horden, which is why no treatment is necessary at Whitburn.
“We employed specialist consultants to carry out dispersion modelling to identify the impact of the mine water on the marine environment. Their findings predicted that the iron concentrations within the mine water would be rapidly diluted in the North Sea.
“We have undertaken specialist studies and taken specialist environmental advice to ensure the protection scheme meets the relevant quality standards. We continue to work with the Environment Agency to monitor the scheme and ensure these standards continue to be met to protect the marine environment.”