Europe will investigate ‘poison’ fears at Whitburn

Bob Latimer at Byer's Hole, Souter.
Bob Latimer at Byer's Hole, Souter.
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CAMPAIGNERS concerned over potentially contaminated mine water will have their fears investigated by officers from the European Union.

The European Commission in Brussels has announced it will investigate claims that a “cocktail of poisons” is being pumped into the North Sea from the former Whitburn Colliery.

The Environment Agency (EA) has granted the Coal Authority (CA) permission for a trial to see if the pumping system was a workable solution to prevent the rising water and materials in the pit from contaminating drinking water.

Environmental campaigner Bob Latimer, from Seaburn, as well as Seaham Town Council, Durham County Council members and Easington MP Grahame Morris have all highlighted concerns over the trial, which began in February.

The Whitburn pit shafts, which were abandoned when the mine closed in 1968, were later used to dump waste and slurry from both Sunderland’s Wearmouth Colliery and Westoe Colliery, South Shields.

Objectors are worried about poisonous substances and levels of iron and other substances in the water. The CA and EA say these are being monitored and the pumping will halt if these levels are too high.

North East Labour MEP Stephen Hughes, who referred the matter to the commission after liaising with Mr Latimer, said: “I am extremely concerned that the discharge does not meet the Water Framework Directive requirements and that vital public information is not being released on this matter.

“I requested that the European Commission intervene and investigate and I have now received notification that they will do just that.

“If it is found that there has been a contravention of environmental laws action may be taken in the European Court of Justice in relation to this matter.”

Mr Hughes said the EA had refused Mr Latimer details of testing and analysis of the liquid discharged in the pumping trial.

The EA has defended its record on the pumping scheme.

Dave Edwardson, the Environment Agency’s environment team leader for the Tyne and Wear said: “Information and analysis relating to the Whitburn minewater trial is public information and the Environment Agency has always, and will continue to, made this available to anyone upon request.

“The trial’s purpose is to investigate how it can control rising minewater to prevent possible pollution to groundwater which is a source for the public water supply in the Sunderland and South Shields area.

“The chemical composition of the minewater is monitored daily to ensure minimal impact on the environment, and results from the trial, which ends this month, will help to decide how to tackle the issue in the long-term.”

Mr Latimer could not be contacted to comment.