AN environmental campaigner today labelled plans to pump mine water into the sea a “quick-fix remedy”.
The Coal Authority wants to build a pumping station at the former Whitburn Colliery to tackle rising water in old seams.
Although there is said to be no imminent danger, if the rise continues unchecked, water would eventually reach and contaminate drinking supplies.
The Coal Authority predicts mine water levels could reach sea level by January 2018, at which point the overlying aquifer would be at risk of pollution.
The plan is to start pumping out the mine water at a rate that will stop it rising and keep it below the aquifer.
However, Bob Latimer, co-owner of Latimer’s seafood deli in Whitburn, questioned the whole validity of the exercise.
He believes there is a real danger that a “cocktail of poisons” could be discharged into the sea.
He said: “Seaburn and Roker lost their Blue Flags this summer because of the water quality.
“Heaven help Marsden and South Shields when the mine water pumping starts – no doubt rust colour flags will suffice.
“I paid to have the mine water tested and remember, it was being pumped at a very slow rate, yet it still contained iron, mercury, nickel, zinc and many other deadly chemicals.
“To pump this mine water into the sea is nothing more than a quick-fix remedy. It’s just an out- of-sight out-of-mind approach.
“Remember, Whitburn mine received all the nasties from both Wearmouth and Westoe for many years after it closed in 1968.
“I suppose we could turn the mine water pumping into a tourist attraction – ‘come and bath at the Wherry and you get a free tan’. The sad thing is this is no laughing matter.”
Mr Latimer has called for an independent probe before the pumping starts in January 2015.
He said: “Let’s hope common sense prevails before the Environment Agency and Natural England become involved and a full independent investigation is carried out.”
A spokesman for the Environment Agency said the environmental risk was “extremely low”, adding: “We would not persist with the discharge if we believed it would harm marine life.”
The Coal Authority has chosen the former Whitburn Colliery – now Whitburn Coastal Park – as its preferred site to prevent water levels in old mine seams reaching drinking water supplies.
Alternatives sites, near the Stadium of Light and the former Westoe Colliery, were ruled out.
Both were considered too close to amenities and housing.