AN environmental campaigner is making a last-ditch bid to prevent what he fears is polluted mine water being pumped into the sea off South Tyneside – with an appeal to find a man who could help him prove his case.
The Coal Authority is planning to set up a pumping station at the former Whitburn Colliery site to reduce rising levels of mine water in the area’s disused underground pits.
The project is designed at protecting drinking water from potential contamination.
The authority says that, if water is allowed to continue rising, it is likely to result in contamination of an overlying aquifer which supplies drinking water to 30,000 residents in South Tyneside and Sunderland.
In a bid to avoid that, a scheme has been devised to use an existing borehole at the former colliery – which closed in 1968 – to abstract mine water from coal workings 190 metres below ground.
The water would then be discharged directly into the sea through a new outfall pipe below the low tide mark at The Wherry, a man-made cove south of Souter Lighthouse.
Whitburn environmentalist Bob Latimer, 71, has labelled the plan a “cheap fix” and believes pollutants are contained in the mine water – a claim denied by the Coal Authority.
He wants the mine water to be treated before it is discharged.
That would appear to be less likely now that South Tyneside Council has decided the trial can go ahead without an Environmental Impact Assessment, a notice which would have placed greater restrictions on the work.
Now Mr Latimer has appealed for an elderly man who contacted him with environmental concerns surrounding Whitburn Colliery some years ago to get in touch again.
He said: “When this all started two or three years ago the Gazette printed the story on the mine water and how it was getting close to the limestone aquifer and it could affect our drinking water.
“Following that, I was contacted by many people but there was an old man who felt so concerned about what they were proposing he hired a taxi to come from South Shields to Whitburn to tell me that his late brother was an industrial chemist and he had told him chemicals had been disposed of down the Whitburn mine shaft.
“I need to speak to this man again.
“The mine water problem explained here is nothing more than a cheap fix.
“They have managed to get it this far and it looks like they are going to escape from having to provide an Environment Impact Assessment as South Tyneside Council say one is not required.
“To apply for a new consent would involve applying different environmental safeguards. To get round this problem, they are applying to just modify the existing consent that was issued for the trial.”
A spokesman for the Coal Authority said: “The Authority has reviewed the shaft information. Records held by the Authority confirm that the Whitburn shafts were partially backfilled with tailings, the shaft having been used for washery discard disposal. This practice is believed to have been common throughout Britain. Following cessation of tailings disposal, the shafts were filled with hardcore up to surface level and the shafts were capped.
“There are no records held in the authority archive, which includes historic records from the National Coal Board and British Coal Corporation, that suggest any toxic or harmful substances were disposed of at Whitburn. The risk of contamination of the aquifer in this context is via the naturally occurring minerals present within the mined strata and not from any substances disposed into the mine shaft.”
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: “We understand that people may have concerns about the proposals, which is why the scheme has been the subject of extensive discussions involving a range of partners with responsibility for protecting the environment, as well as full public consultation earlier this year.
“The council’s own Place Select Committee also spent a significant amount of time hearing evidence from all interested parties and visited similar sites in the region.
“Following consultation with the Marine Management Organisation and Natural England, the council concluded that an Environmental Impact Assessment was not required for the proposed mine water scheme.
“However, this decision does not impact on the regulatory role of the Environment Agency and Marine Management Organisation responsible for the minewater abstraction and discharge.
“We would like to reassure people that the council is keen to see the best scheme possible in this location to ensure the drinking water supply is protected from rising minewater.
“The council formally responded to the Environment Agency’s statutory consultation in August. We await the outcome.”
Mr Latimer can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org