NCWQ Environmental Report, February 2020

By Pat Pepper

Update on impact of lack of reliable water on regional communities and industries and the environment.   

The Problem: In my NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Report, November 2019, I drew attention to the fact that many billions of megalitres of water can flow out to sea while other parts of the country suffer extreme drought.  The freshwater flood plumes can cause environmental damage to the reefs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Drought significantly impacts the environment, industries and communities including Murray Darling Basin.

Regional towns were running out of water with dam levels dangerously low.  While some rain has fallen, emergency water restrictions remain in place in some areas. e.g. While the level and volume for Stanthorpe increased from 9.5% and 196 megalitres (ML)  at 3rd February 2020 to 17.5% and 362 ML. at 17th February, water carting is continuing to Stanthorpe. Water remains in Storm King Dam as a contingency for emergency events and to provide a habitat for aquatic life. https://www.sdrc.qld.gov.au/living-here/water-wastewater/water-update

Rain has fallen across Murray Darling Basin recently but not enough to end the drought.  The flows in many rivers will be boosted and dam storage levels lifted but threats to water quality persist, including contamination from bushfire debris.

Water storage levels in the Murray-Darling Basin
https://www.mdba.gov.au/managing-water/drought-murray-darling-basin/murray-darling-basin-drought-update

Rainfall Projections: Rainfall in the near future (2030) and late in the century (2090) has been projected by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology  for clusters of Natural Resource Management Regions including the following:-

  • The Wet Tropics cluster which contains the Wet Tropics and Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Areas, as well as a high proportion of the Great Barrier Reef catchment,
  • The Monsoonal North East with the Mitchell, Gilbert, Norman and Staaten River catchments, all of which flow into the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Burdekin region, 
  • The Central Slopes cluster comprising NRM regions to the west of the Great Dividing Range from the Darling Downs in Queensland to the central west of New South Wales with a number of important headwater catchments for the Murray Darling Basin and
  • The Murray Basin cluster comprises NRM regions across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The cluster extends from the flatlands of inland New South Wales to the Great Dividing Range.

In the near future, natural variability is projected to predominate over trends due to greenhouse gas emissions for all of the above clusters. However for the Wet Tropics and Monsoonal North East Clusters it is noted that because global climate models offer diverse results, and models have shortcomings in resolving some tropical processes it is difficult to provide confident rainfall projections.

By late in the century, 

  • for the Wet Tropics, projections generally have low confidence,
  • for the Monsoonal North East, projections generally have low confidence
  • for the Central Slopes, climate models indicate decreasing winter rainfall with high confidence. There is a good understanding of the physical mechanisms driving this change (southward shift of winter storm systems together with rising mean pressure over the region). Decreases are also projected in spring, with medium confidence. The direction of change in summer and autumn cannot be confidently projected due to the complexity of rain producing systems in this region, the large spread of model results, and some inconsistent results from finer scale modelling. 
  • For the Murray Basin cool season (April to October) less rainfall is projected with high confidence. In the warm season (November to March), there is medium confidence that rainfall will remain unchanged. 

Increased intensity of extreme daily rainfall events is projected with high confidence for Wet Tropics, Monsoonal North East and Central Slopes clusters. Even though mean annual rainfall is projected to decline, heavy rainfall intensity is projected to increase, with high confidence.

For the Murray Basin and Central Slopes clusters time spent in drought is projected, with medium confidence, to increase over the course of the century. For Wet Tropics and Monsoonal North East clusters, drought will continue to be a feature of the regional climate variability, but projected changes are uncertain.

WWW.CLIMATECHANGEINAUSTRALIA.GOV.AU CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology Brochures (WET_TROPICS; MONSOONAL_NORH; CENTRAL_SLOPES; MURRAY_BASIN)

Various Proposals to address the problem:

In my NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Report, November2019, the following proposals were discussed:-

  • Bradfield Scheme 1938
  • Revised Bradfield’s Scheme 1981
  • Moore-Hielscher Updated Bradfield Scheme: 2019
  • NSW Proposals (diverting flows from the Manning, Macleay and Hunter rivers inland)
  • Hell’s Gate Dam in North Queensland :
  • Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment program (Fitzroy, Darwin, Mitchell catchments)
  • National Water Grid

Environmental impacts of dams: Dams can supply significant sources of hydropower, water supply or flood protection but a dam must have a sustainable purpose and operating mission to provide a greater benefit than the environmental impacts of its existence or the risks associated with its ageing structurehttps://www.waterpowermagazine.com/features/featurelarge-or-small-4978245/

Environmental issues with dams to be addressed include:-

  • riparian habitat loss,: upstream of a dam, impounded water can drown riparian communities; downstream  the shore line changes and with it the riparian communities,
  •  sedimentation:  Dams can trap sediments normally deposited downstream. The storage capacity of the dam can be reduced with high sedimentation. Seasonal flooding which would fertilise and water flood plains can be interrupted and debris in river channels not cleared or redistributed downstream,
  • erosion can reshape river channels below the dam, once sediment deposition ceases,
  • water quality may deteriorate in reservoirs (e.g., thermal stress, low dissolved oxygen, acidification), especially close to the bottom.  It can decline as a result of drainage water returning from irrigation projects . If the reservoir becomes shallower through sedimentation, in arid regions evaporation could increase leaving behind salts and decreasing the water quality.
  • groundwater: With seepage into bedrock, river water  could enter groundwater and water tables rise around a reservoir,
  • fish migration and reproduction could be disrupted
https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/dams-environmental-effects

POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF DAMS ON THE ENVIRONMENT

M. Sait TAHMİSCİOĞLU, Nermin ANUL, Fatih EKMEKÇİ and Nurcan DURMUS INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS ON RIVER BASIN MANAGEMENT 2011 P759=69

Dams: Ecological Impacts and Management Stefan Schmutz and Otto Moog (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/),

The location of the dam, size of reservoir (height of dam, volume of reservoir), and water residence time affect the impact.  The dam operation mode can determine the seasonal variation of stored water, water level fluctuations, sediment capture and release, as well as daily and seasonal downstream flow patterns.

Sediment Management options depend on storage capacity, mean annual runoff, and

mean annual sediment load and include sediment sluicing, sediment flushing, sediment bypass, and sediment augmentation downstream of reservoirs .

Habitat Improvements in Reservoirs. Mitigation measures can comprise instream structures such as gravel bars, islands, etc., lateral widenings of the cross profiles in riverine  sections of impoundments, creating artificial habitats in lacustrine section, and bypass systems within  the alluvial floodplains.

Riverine Zone                          Lacustrine Zone

Dams: Ecological Impacts and Management Stefan Schmutz and Otto Moog (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/),

Large and small dams can provide water storage but the size and type of dam needs to suit both the site conditions and satisfy the objectives for its construction.  The impact of a dam varies with the river, the dam’s design, and the projected use.  Small dams can be best suited for small hydroelectric developments utilising low diversion and storage, for smaller scale irrigation projects, flood control on smaller tributaries, ground water recharge basins, and off-site storage of recycled water or desalinated water.

Off-stream reservoirs constructed on smaller streams which store water pumped from a nearby river or adjacent basin typically have less environmental impact. A small dam can have less impact on the environment if designed to be more effective in safely passing fish species both upstream and downstream, and to bypass sediment  https://www.waterpowermagazine.com/features/featurelarge-or-small-4978245/

While fluvial characteristics are maintained to some extent in small reservoirs, e.g., run-of-the-river

hydropower plants, lentic conditions prevail in large storage reservoirs.

Dams: Ecological Impacts and Management Stefan Schmutz and Otto Moog (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/),

Water security throughout the country and in all sectors is vitally important.  Surely an extensive feasibility study with bipartisan support, both Federal and State, is needed to address this perennial problem of lack of  reliable water for regional communities and industries and the environment.  Surface and groundwater capture-and-storage options, land suitability, the commercial viability of primary production should be considered with potential environmental, social, indigenous and economic impacts and risks.

Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environment Adviser

NCWQ Environmental Report, April 2020

By Pap Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser

The environmental issues of two major recent occurrences, the 2019-20 bushfires and the coral bleaching of reefs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are discussed – Why they occurred, the consequences and some actions being taken or that have potential.

The 2019-20 bushfire season was disastrous with at least 34 lives lost, over 5,900 buildings (including 2,779 homes) destroyed and an estimated 18.6 million hectares burnt. NASA estimated that 306 million tonnes of CO2 had been emitted as of 2 January 2020. While this might normally be reabsorbed by forest regrowth, prolonged drought has damaged the ability of forests to fully regrow and may take decades. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019%E2%80%9320_Australian_bushfire_season

Raging bushfire with flames as tall as the trees
Koala after a bushfire sitting on the ground in front of a fence.

                           

Photo: CSIRO                                                       Photo: M Fillinger https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2020-03-05/bushfire-                                             crisis-five-big-numbers/12007716

Australian Academy of Science Fellow Professor Chris Dickman has estimated that Australia has lost at least a billion birds, mammals and reptiles this bushfire season. This figure does not include insects, bats, fish and frogs.  Even if animals survive the fires by fleeing or going underground, they return or re-emerge into areas that don’t have the resources to support them. Others will fall victim to introduced predators such as feral cats and red foxes. Even for those birds or animals able to flee to unaffected areas they will rarely be able to successfully compete with animals already living there and succumb within a short time. Some endangered species may be driven to extinction.

Australia is at risk of losing a significant proportion of its biodiversity and because much of that biodiversity occurs only here in Australia, it’s a global loss.https://www.sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2020/01/08/australian-bushfires-more-than-one-billion-animals-impacted.html https://www.science.org.au/news-and-events/news-and-media-releases/australian-bushfires-why-they-are-unprecedented Also the bushfires have not only taken a heavy toll on wildlife but have affected water and air quality.

While bushfires form part of the natural cycle of Australia’s landscapes, factors such as climate trends, weather patterns and vegetation management by humans can all contribute to the intensity of bushfires. The most destructive fires have been preceded by extreme high temperatures, low relative humidity and strong winds, combining to create ideal conditions to rapidly spread fire. 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b2/2019_Spring_BOM_FFDI_scs72.png/200px-2019_Spring_BOM_FFDI_scs72.png

            

FFDI (Forest Fire Danger Index), Spring 2019

The primary causes of the 2019–20 bushfire was seen as severely below average fuel moisture attributed to record-breaking temperatures and drought, accompanied by severe fire weather, and that these are likely to have been exacerbated by long-term trends of warmer and dryer weather observed over the Australian land mass. 

The major cause of ignition of fires during the 2019-20 fire crisis in NSW and Victoria is reported to be lightning strikes with alleged arson accounting for around 1% of NSW fires and 0.3% of Victorian fires by 18 January 2020.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019%E2%80%9320_Australian_bushfire_season

The significance of major circulation patterns on climate variability in Australia has been studied:- 

  • the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) referring to the extensive warming of the sea surface region in the central and eastern Pacific, 
  • the Inter-decadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) similar to El Nino in that it is a change in climate related to sea surface temperatures but tending to last much longer, 20-30 years as opposed to 18 months, 
  • the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) – the difference in ocean temperatures between the west and east tropical Indian Ocean, that can shift moisture towards or away from Australia, and 
  • Southern Annular Mode (SAM) – a mode of variation in the atmosphere of the high latitudes in the southern hemisphere. 

One study investigating the influence of the ENSO on fire risk found that the proportion of days with a high, or greater than high, fire danger rating markedly increased during El Niño episodes and was further increased when the IPO was negative during these El Niño eventsVerdon D.C. , Kiem A.S and S.W. Franks (2004) Int. J. of Wildland Fire 13(2) 165-171 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF03034

In another study with data from 39 stations from1973 to 2017, Harris and Lucas (2019) found ENSO to be the main driver for interannual variability of fire weather as measured by the McArthur Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI). They reported that in general, El Niño-like conditions led to more extreme fire weather, with this effect stronger in eastern Australia but with significant regional variations to this general rule. In NSW, particularly along the central coast, negative SAM was a primary influence for elevated fire weather in late-winter and spring. In the southeast (Victoria and Tasmania), the El Niño-like impact was exacerbated when positive IOD conditions were simultaneously observed. The spring conditions were key, and strongly influenced what was observed during the following summer. On longer time scales (45 years), linear trends were upward at most stations; this trend was strongest in the southeast and during the spring. The positive trends were not driven by the trends in the climate drivers and they were not consistent with hypothesized impacts of the IPO, either before or after its late-1990s shift to the cold phase. Harris and Lucas proposed that anthropogenic climate change was the primary driver of the trend, through both higher mean temperatures and potentially through associated shifts in large-scale rainfall patterns. They also said that variations from interannual factors were generally larger in magnitude than the trend effects observed. 

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Time series of 90th percentile FFDI annual anomaly (July-June) at each station (1973–2017). The thick line indicates the multi-station mean. The thick dotted line indicates the linear trend.  https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0222328.g012

Harris S, Lucas C (2019) Understanding the variability of Australian fire weather between 1973 and 2017. PLoS ONE 14(9): e0222328.

Bruce Boyes, Knowledge Manager, Environmental manager, Project manager, Educator claimed the scale and seriousness of the current bushfire crisis was caused by the progressive temperature increase due to climate change, the strongest IOD on record, the influence of SAM and a well-advanced IPO progressively drying the landscape of southeastern Australia. While each one of these factors on their own would have been unlikely to have caused something of the scale and seriousness of the current bushfire crisis, all of these factors coming together did. Removing any one of these factors but leaving all of the others would also have been unlikely to have caused such a crisis. https://realkm.com/2020/01/11/the-vital-knowledge-missing-from-australias-bushfire-crisis-debates-part-1-what-can-climate-history-tell-us

In a further paper, Bruce Boyes  addressed hazard reduction burning  and debunks some of the myths about Aboriginal fire management practices.  Rather than practices being widespread and constant, they depended on the species composition of the vegetation communities in the area inhabited.  

To provide a line of defence between buildings and bushland, Boyes promotes a buffer zone completely clear of understorey, midstorey, and any fuel load and if local conditions indicate a high risk of crown fires the overstorey trees. He also discusses firelines  along the boundaries between the buffer zones and the bushland to facilitate easy access for back burning in case of an approaching wildfire, and additional firelines within the bushland areas if possible, to provide additional lines of defencehttps://realkm.com/2020/01/25/the-vital-knowledge-missing-from-australias-bushfire-crisis-debates-part-2-the-popular-narrative-and-the-unpopular-scientific-knowledge/

Citizen Science Forum:  On 14 February, CSIRO hosted a national forum which recognised that in a time of crisis, research capability is under pressure and citizen science could provide an important complement to traditional research-led monitoring campaigns.  To that end, in collaboration with the Atlas of Living Australia (a National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy capability) and the Australian Citizen Science Association, CSIRO has developed the Citizen Science Bushfire Project Finder website which allows members of the public to contribute to projects ranging from air quality, to identifying and confirming animal and plant sightings while maintaining safe social distancing practices. https://www.csiro.au/en/News/News-releases/2020/Citizen-science-to-aid-bushfire-recovery   While citizen scientists can be confronted by the number of tools and protocols aimed at ensuring data is captured in a consistent manner, this is essential to make the best use of the data. In many cases it may only be practical to get a true picture of the composition of the flora and fauna in an area and how it changes with time with the help of dedicated citizen scientists.

Threat to koalas from bats carrying a retrovirus:  On top of the high mortality from the bushfires, and loss of habitat and food supply, the koala population can be exposed, by a koala retrovirus KoRV, to cancer and chlamydia, a leading cause of infertility, blindness and kidney failure. Scientists from Burnet Institute, Melbourne and CSIRO have identified bats as a source of diverse infectious retroviruses related to KoRV. This implicates bats as a reservoir of KoRV-related viruses that potentially can be transmitted to other mammalian species. Bats are reservoirs of emerging viruses that are highly pathogenic to other mammals, including humans. For example, while remaining unaffected, bats, can host viruses including Ebola, Hendra and coronaviruses, and transmit the viruses by droppings and body fluids to other mammals. The research of Hayward et al reported the first exogenous retrovirus described in bats. https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/batborne-viruses-a-deadly-threat-to-koalas/news-story/46414d893f0f36ea768b11a77ae993d8  Hayward et al  (2020) Infectious KoRV-related retroviruses circulating in Australian bats www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1915400117While SARS or SARS-like, MERS or MERS-like, 2019-nCOV or 2019-nCoV-like viruses have not yet been found in Australian wildlife (including bats), overseas bats host these viruses. https://wildlifehealthaustralia.com.au/Portals/0/Documents/FactSheets/Mammals/Coronaviruses_in_Australian_Bats.pdf

However, it should be remembered flying-foxes play a crucial role as pollinators and help keep forest ecosystems that support other species like koalas, healthy. https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/wildlife/2020/04/do-our-fruit-bats-carry-the-virus-behind-covid-19/

Coral Bleaching of reefs in the Great Barrier Marine Park (GBRMP): Sea temperatures in February around the Great Barrier Reef were the warmest on record since the Bureau of Meteorology’s sea surface temperature records began in 1900. 

PHOTO: Sea temperatures in February around the Great Barrier Reef were the warmest on record. (Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology) https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-15/cyclone-great-barrier-reef-bleaching-record-seas-temperatures/12050102

Director of the ARC Centre for Excellence in Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University (CCRS JCU) Professor Terry Hughes said serious coral bleaching occurs when coral suffers heat stress due to spikes in sea temperatures caused by unusually hot summers. 

Aerial surveys of 1036 reefs (focusing on shallow water corals, down to five metres) showed a different pattern of bleaching within the GBRMP than from bleaching events in 2016 and 2017:-

https://images.theconversation.com/files/325593/original/file-20200406-74220-1axw6r6.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&q=45&auto=format&w=754&fit=clip

https://theconversation.com/we-just-spent-two-weeks-surveying-the-great-barrier-reef-what-we-saw-was-an-utter-tragedy-135197

The aerial surveys accurately record bleaching to only a five metre depth, and bleaching severity generally declines with increasing depth. www.gbrmpa.gov.au/the-reef/reef-health/coral-bleaching-101

Of the 1036 reefs surveyed

  • about 40%  had little or no bleaching and it is anticipated that most will recover,
  • about 25%  were severely (each reef >60%) bleached and
  • about 35%  were moderately bleached with responses dependent on history of disturbance.

http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/news-room/latest-news/latest-news/coral-bleaching/2020/statement-aerial-surveys-on-the-great-barrier-reef 07/04/20 GBRMPAuthority Weekly Reef health update — 02 April 2020 http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/the-reef/reef-health.

An aerial survey of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. Picture: AFP

An aerial survey of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. Picture: AFP

Professor Hughes said the distinctive footprint of each bleaching event has closely matched the location of hotter and cooler conditions in different years.  But it was difficult to make predictions about how much coral would die, as scientists had found corals were reacting differently after each marine heatwave. To know whether coral is surviving and recovering after bleaching or dying, water surveys are needed.

Professor Morgan Pratchett also from CCRS JCU, who leads the underwater surveys, noted that bleaching isn’t necessarily fatal as some species are affected more than others.  He will be assessing the losses of corals from this most recent event later in the year.  

With the five mass bleaching events (1998, 2002, 2016, 2017, 2020) the number of reefs escaping severe bleaching continues to dwindle and the gap between recurrent bleaching events to shrink, hindering a full recovery. Hughes and Pratchett are concerned the Great Barrier Reef will continue to lose corals from heat stress, until global emissions of greenhouse gasses are reduced to net zero, and sea temperatures stabilise.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-15/cyclone-great-barrier-reef-bleaching-record-seas-temperatures/12050102https://www.theaustralian.com.au/inquirer/coral-bleaching-barriers-for-the-reef/news-story/3ea4d163fcc4445b1e3b37cf7bab90a6;https://www.jcu.edu.au/news/releases/2020/april/climate-change-triggers-great-barrier-reef-bleachinghttps://theconversation.com/we-just-spent-two-weeks-surveying-the-great-barrier-reef-what-we-saw-was-an-utter-tragedy-135197

The GBRMPA also urges that the strongest possible global efforts be made to reduce emissions and global warming as large scale marine heatwaves and associated coral bleaching events become more severe and frequent, and the Reef’s natural recovery processes are unable to keep up. Such action is needed in conjunction with their current programme protecting coral cover through crown-of-thorns starfish control, improved water quality, increased monitoring and effective Marine Park management, preventing illegal fishing, and developing potential new restoration and interventions that can occur within the Reef.

http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/news-room/latest-news/latest-news/coral-bleaching/2020/statement-aerial-surveys-on-the-great-barrier-reef

Recently the Australian Government launched the research and development phase (initially $150million) of its Reef Restoration and Adaptation Science Program to help preserve and restore the Great Barrier Reef in the face of rising ocean temperatures and coral bleaching and endorsed a two-year feasibility study led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) into a range of science-based interventions.

This included: 

  • examining ways to collect and freeze coral larvae for use in year-round coral seeding,
  • seeding reefs with corals that are more resilient to heat to help coral reefs to evolve and adapt to the changing environment, 
  • developing technologies that increase the survival rate of coral larvae and that can produce and deploy large quantities of more resilient coral larvae,
  • an ambitious concept to shade and cool large areas of reef at risk of bleaching by spraying microscopic saltwater droplets into clouds to make them more reflective of sunlight (cloud brightening – see below) and
  • investigating methods to physically stabilise damaged reefs, after cyclone and bleaching events, to facilitate faster recovery.

https://minister.awe.gov.au/ley/media-releases/150-million-drive-innovations-boost-reef-resilience       16 April 2020https://www.theaustralian.com.au/inquirer/coral-bleaching-barriers-for-the-reef/news-story/3ea4d163fcc4445b1e3b37cf7bab90a6

Researchers at Southern Cross University and the Sydney Institute of Marine Science have trialled cloud brightening using a boat-mounted fan similar to a snow cannon to shoot salt crystals into the air and  have achieved promising results. To have a significant impact on the reef, a full-scale experiment would need to be 10 times larger, involving the use of several big barge-mounted turbines. The effectiveness of this cloud-brightening technique would drop significantly as the ocean warms further, hence would need to be used in conjunction with other systems. https://www.sciencealert.com/cloud-brightening-is-the-newest-experiment-to-protect-the-great-barrier-reef-from-warming

NCWQ Environmental Report May 2019

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser

Update on the impact of Carmichael Coal Mine in the Galilee Basin: In previous reports and submissions to Government, concerns have been raised about the impact of mega mines in the Galilee Basin, in particular the Carmichael mine. Theseincluded

  • Contribution to greenhouse gases including that from the coal exported overseas;
  • Impact on ground water users in the Galilee Basin;
  • Loss of biodiversity and the probability that biodiversity offsets will not adequately redress this loss;
  • Impact of dredging at Abbot Point and
  • Increased shipping within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

NCWQ submissions on impact of Carmichael Coal Mine;  impact of expansion of ports on the GBR environs; dredging and disposal of dredged material at Abbot Point; Galilee Coal Project at Bimblebox Nature Refuge

 

Details of objections to the granting of the mining lease and the environmental authority, the judicial review of the environmental authority and litigation against the mine involving native title have been detailed in previous reports. Supporting Information from NCWQ Environment Adviser, P.M. Pepper B.Sc. M.Sc. Ph.D for submission to Federal Government and Queensland Government;  http://envlaw.com.au/carmichael-coal-mine-case/

As reported previously the initial proposal to extract up to 60 million tonnes per annum of coal for 150 years from an estimated coal resource of 8.3 billion tonnes was reduced to a project lifetime to 60 yearswith estimated total production of2.3 billion tonnesof thermal coal. The originally proposal was for a new 189km rail line to the Port of Abbot Pointfor export principally to India to be burnt for electricity production, and for expanded capacity of the Port of Abbot. Subsequently, proposed port expansion has been reduced in size and the decision made to use the existing rail line for the initial stage of the project.

However the proposed mine would still be one of the largest coal mines in the worldand the mining and burning of coal from would generate an estimated 4.7 billion tonnesof greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition to climate change, one of the major impacts of the mine is on groundwater. http://envlaw.com.au/carmichael-coal-mine-case/

Groundwatermodels aim to determine the likely effect of mining on groundwater levels and flows of water to and from key areas. If the groundwater levels decline below thresholdscritical to the function of whole ecosystems, such as the Doongmabulla Springs, irreversible harm can occur. Groundwater models can also be used to assess changes in flows of water to and from springs and streams, such as the Carmichael River, which crosses the mine site.

In late 2018 and early 2019 CSIRO and Geoscience Australia(GA) wrote two reports for the Federal Government on specific questions on groundwater monitoring, management and modelling planned by Adani Pty Ltd for its Carmichael mine proposal.

Their review pointed out three major flaws:-

  1. Over-prediction of flow from the Carmichael River into the aquifers below.
  2. Hydraulic conductivity values used in the model were significantly different from the values estimated by previous testing of the geological layers at the mine site.
  3. Bore heights used to calibrate the model were incorrect

If the model is corrected to address these flaws, the review points out that the drawdown at the Doongmabulla Springs will in all likelihood be higher than required under Adani’s federal approval conditions.

In addition which underground aquifers feed Doongmabulla Springs has not been identified.Substantive corrective measures for reversing future spring-flow impacts from mining have not been defined

Unless Adani puts forward its plan for dealing with these very real risks, regulators cannot hope to make an informed decision about the risk the mine poses to the Doongmabulla Springs.https://www.csiro.au/en/News/News-releases/2019/Statement-on-Adani-Carmichael-proposalhttps://theconversation.com/unpacking-the-flaws-in-adanis-water-management-plan-116161

Adani’s groundwater dependent ecosystem management plan(GDEMP) for its proposed Carmichael coal mine was recently approved by Federal Environment Minister after the company made commitments to fully address these issues. However, there is serious concern whether the company can or will address these issues.https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-12-17/adani-water-management-plan-criticised-by-csiro/10625228https://theconversation.com/unpacking-the-flaws-in-adanis-water-management-plan-116161

A January 2019 analysis by EDO Qldof the latest version of Adani’s Black-throated Finch Species Management Plan showed the company had gone backwards in its commitments to the endangered species, reducing its proposed offset area by more than 2000 hectares compared to previous versions of its plan.https://www.edoqld.org.au/update_adani_mine_project11 March, 2019

The Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management Plan and the Black Throated Finch Management Plan still need to be approved by the Queensland Government before significant disturbance can commence at the Carmichael Coal Mine.

Water licences: As reported previouslyCarmichael coal mine has been granted an unlimited 60-year water licence. Water pressure is an issue with flows from artesian bores now roughly half what they were in 1915. Since then, the water level in some bores has fallen by as much as 80 metres, and a third of bores have stopped flowing altogether. This directly affects the human, plant and animal communities that rely on artesian water. https://theconversation.com/why-does-the-carmichael-coal-mine-need-to-use-so-much-water-75923 April 13, 2017. Supporting Information from NCWQ Environment Adviser, P.M. Pepper B.Sc. M.Sc. Ph.D for submission to Federal Government and Queensland Government;  http://envlaw.com.au/carmichael-coal-mine-case/

EDO QLD are currently taking the Federal Government to court, acting on behalf of Australian Conservation Foundation, over the Government’s decision to allow Adani’s North Galilee Water Scheme to proceed without an assessment of its impacts on precious water resources. The scheme involves a 61 km pipeline for Adani to extract and pump up to 12.5 billion litres of water a year from the Suttor river.

Adani was granted their associated water licence and surface water licence for the Carmichael Mine on 29 March 2017. https://www.edoqld.org.au/update_adani_mine_project11 March, 2019

History of offences:Previously reported  allegations of Adani’s environmental offences in India include causing salinity in water supplies, the illegal destruction of mangroves and sand dunes and the blocking and filling of creeks. http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/emails-reveal-officials-probing-environmental-and-financial-concerns-with-adani-supermine-20171102-gzdc5h.htmlReport_Earthjustice and Environmental Justice Australia. The Adani Groups Global Environmental Record_29 Oct 2015.pdf

The Queensland Government is investigating whether Adani has breached its environmental licence for the second time in two years with the release of coal-laden floodwaters from its coal port at Abbot Point in the state’s north.https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-13/adani-facing-government-probe-abbot-point-wetland-release/10805206

With high definition satellite imagery, drone footage, public bore registers, and on-the-ground observations and photography,  EDO Qld and their client, Coast and Country, have delivered evidence to the Queensland Government that Adani has broken the law by clearing land, building roads, and commencing dewatering operations without the correct approvals in place.https://www.edoqld.org.au/evidence_supports_the_case_adani_broken_the_law30 December, 2018; https://www.edoqld.org.au/update_adani_mine_project,https://www.edoqld.org.au/update_adani_mine_project

Jobs:Initially 10,000 direct and indirect jobs peaking from 2024 with $22 billion in taxes and royalties were predicted. In court in 2015, the company economics expert instead said it would create an extra 1,464 jobs in Australia — 1,206 of them in Queensland — and generate $16.8 billion in taxes and royalties.

While the revised mine plan could be less than a quarter of its original scale, Adani has not publicly put forward a new projection for jobs or tax and royalty streams. It is yet to reach a final deal with the State Government on how its royalty payments might be deferred in the mine’s first five years.https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-04-26/what-we-know-about-adanis-carmichael-coal-mine-project/11049938

It would seem prudent to delay the commencement of the project given the advice from CSIRO and the company’s poor record of environmental management in Indiaand Australia until these issues are addressed.

Environment Report, September 2018

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

Waste:  Australians are generating around 64 million tonnes of waste every year. This could cause health and environmental problems. To combat this problem the Federal and State Governments are updating the 2009 National Waste Policy: Less waste, more resources to provide a national framework for improving Australian waste management.  A circular economy is promoted in the discussion paper with five principles that underpin waste management, recycling and resource recovery: Discussion paper Updating the 2009 National Waste Policy: Less waste, more resources September 2018   In this report which forms the basis of feedback to the Government, these principles and strategies are discussed.

.

  • Updating the 2009 National Waste Policy: Less waste, more resources. Representation of a Circular Economy as it applies to resource use (reproduced by Department of the Environment and Energy with permission of the European Union)

Principle 1. Avoid waste  (National target 10% by 2030; Food Waste target  50% by 2030, problematic plastics by 2030))-

  • prioritise waste avoidance, encourage efficient use, reuse and repair
  • design products so waste is minimised, they are made to last and materials are more easily recoverable

 

Given the differences in % wastage of the various materials, it would appear advisable to encourage those industries which generate and use materials which can detrimentally affect health and the environment to have specific targets.  e.g. as well as plastics, fly ash and hazardous waste

 

 

 

Waste generation and fate by material category, Australia 2014-15

‘Masonry mat.’ means masonry material; ‘c’board’ means cardboard; ‘Hazwaste’ means hazardous waste; ‘En recovery’ means energy recovery. The stated percentages are the resource recovery rates = (energy recovery + recycling) / generation. Australian National Waste Report 2016

 

Designing systems and products that increase a product’s lifecycle including disassembly and repair is very important.  However the long term degradability of the material should be considered also.  For example plastic can break down into microplastics which could act as an agent for the transfer of many fat-soluble pollutants, such as persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic compounds, from the environment and into organisms such as fish. Lusher, A.L.; Hollman, P.C.H.; Mendoza-Hill, J.J. 2017.Microplastics in fisheries and aquaculture: status of knowledge on their occurrence and implications for aquatic organisms and food safety. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper. No. 615. Rome, Italy.

 

Principle 2. Improve resource recovery (80% from all resource recovery streams by 2030)

  • improve material collection systems and processes for recycling
  • improve the quality of recycled material we produce

 

While packaging is essential to protect the integrity and security of products, single use packaging can make a substantial contribution to waste.  In their Australian Packaging Covenant Strategic Plan (2017-2022), the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) aims by 2022 to have

  • developed proven viable approaches to remove 50% of current problem packaging types or materials including soft plastics, takeaway coffee cups and expanded polystyrene from the waste stream with 90% of its members actively participated in closed loop collaboration of circular economies.
  • delivered a packaging Recycling/Disposal Labelling Scheme in market covering 85% of packaging; and the collective efforts of APCO members will have resulted in a decrease in labelled recyclable packaging going to landfill , and have reduced single-use Business to Business packaging, as a proportion of turnover, by 30%, based on 2017 reported levels.Australian Packaging Covenant Strategic Plan 2017 – 2022

Does APCO membership cover the majority of firms in the packaging supply chain?  Perhaps membership could be extended to businesses in the packaging supply chain with less than an annual turnover of $AUD5 million.  Packaging on imported products must be a contributing factor to waste.

 

The current review of the Product Stewardship Act of 2011 should determine whether the Voluntary accreditation of product stewardship arrangements and the Co‐regulatory product stewardship schemes delivered by industry and regulated by the Australian Government are effective.  And it should be clear whether Mandatory product stewardship schemes are needed to label products, to make arrangements for recycling products at end of life, or require a deposit and refund to be applied to a product, or ban certain substances or materials from use in products. http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/consultations/79a39335-ee07-4f94-ab7f-cd8323641af0/files/ps-act-review-consultation-paper.pdf

 

Having different bins for each type of waste would be advantageous.  It should not be necessary for every householder to have every bin, provided depots are conveniently located.  For example, in Kamikatsu, Japan, the population of about 1,500 take their rubbish to the recycling centre and sort it into 45 different categories.  Volunteers collect the rubbish of the elderly once a month.  Food scraps are mostly composted and more than 80% of the town’s other waste is now recycled.  The remaining 20% that can’t currently be processed — things like nappies and certain types of plastics — get sent off to be incinerated.  By 2020 the town aims to be waste free.  The sheer inconvenience of having to take one’s rubbish to the recycling centre also acts as a deterrent to excess consumption in the first place..http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-20/kamikatsu-the-japanese-town-with-45-different-recycling-bins/9776560

Photo: Kamikatsu’s waste station manager, Kazuyuki Kiyohara.  Photo: Kamikatsu residents bring their waste to the recycling plant. (ABC News: Yumi Asada)

 

Principle 3. Increase use of recycled material and build demand and markets for recycled products

The importance of commonly accepted working definitions of what constitutes recyclable, compostable or reusable across the States and Territories is crucial for success.  At present these differ by State and Territory.  The milestone of having national standards and specifications for high priority recycled materials or applications in place by 2020 should start to address this.

Unless there is a strong domestic market for recyclable materials all the effort of collecting and sorting will be in vain.  For example, the lack of market for recycled plastic appears to have been a disincentive.  One recycling business which turns soft plastics such as milk cartons and squeezable shampoo bottles into sturdy plastic play equipment, termite-proof boardwalk decking and bollards, processes about a third of what it has the capacity to.  This firm with at least one other only accepts plastic waste from organisations willing to buy back the recycled products. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/may/22/recycling-in-australia-is-dead-in-the-water-three-companies-tackling-our-plastic-addiction.  Increased awareness of the waste problems and participation in recycling by organisations and the public is needed.  The current ABC TV series may help.

Converting plastic waste to fuel has potential.  Geyer et al note the vast majority of monomers used to make plastics, such as ethylene and propylene, are derived from fossil hydrocarbons.  None of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable so they accumulate, rather than decompose, in landfills or the natural environment.  The only way to permanently eliminate plastic waste is by destructive thermal treatment, such as combustion or pyrolysis. Geyer, Jambeck, Law Sci. Adv. 2017;3: e1700782; (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700782)  Some types of plastics e.g. pure hydrocarbons, such as polyethylene and polypropylene are more suitable than others for using this technology. https://insteading.com/blog/plastic-to-fuel   A commercial scale facility capable of converting waste plastics to fuel at a rate of 50 feedstock tonnes per day was commissioned in NSW by Integrated Green Energy (IGE) with Foyson Resources using a catalytic restructuring process. http://plasticpyrolysisplants.com/50-tpd-plastics-to-diesel-plant-produces-first-batch-in-australia/  A plant was also planned to be built at Hume in the ACT.  The company claimed their technology removed ash, dealt with hydrocarbon contaminants, and used waste gas for heating to burn off gas at a high enough temperature to destroy noxious compounds. https://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/act/foy-group-walks-away-from-plasticstofuel-plant-in-hume-20180114-h0i0qw.html  An independent panel reported the company’s environmental impact statement failed to sufficiently address key risks, including the risk of explosions, the potential damage to surrounding land, and the effects on air quality.  They also recommended ACT should have a “proof of performance” requirement.  Hence the plan was shelved. https://the-riotact.com/foys-planned-oil-refinery-has-hit-a-major-obstacle/202920   Could these problems have been addressed? Maybe, given the waste disposal problem exasperated by China’s ban on imported solid waste, the need for sustainable continuous energy supply and that Australia only has 48 days aggregated fuel reserves, the limitation on resin type to be used in waste to energy plants should be reconsidered.

 

Principle 4. Better manage material flows to benefit human health, the environment and the economy

Although the megatonnes of organic waste is much greater than that of plastic and hazardous waste the latter two pose a greater threat or risk to public health, safety or to the environment.

 

Recycled plastics aren’t able to continually serve the same purpose after recycling.  The process of melting down and recycling plastic produces volatile organic compounds that can harm plant and animal life including humans near the industrial site if not carefully controlled.  Plastic is manufactured from petroleum and this substance can leech into foods stored in recycled plastic containers.  Plastic manufacturers only use a small portion of recycled plastic, if any, when producing food containers and packaging.  Because of the potential health threats recycled plastic poses, much plastic recycling is actually down-cycling e.g. a plastic water bottle may be down-cycled to become artificial turf or plastic furniture.https://sciencing.com/disadvantages-recycled-plastics-7254476.html   Hence, the aim of the National Waste Policy to phase out problematic and unnecessary plastics is strongly supported.

There are many reasons to support the target of the National Food Waste Strategy of halving the volume of organic waste sent to landfill by 2030, not least to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by diverting food waste from landfill, but also to make better use of resources such as land, water, energy and fuel to produce and distribute food.  Innovative Australian Food waste solutions such as turning imperfect-looking vegetables and fruit into other products and identifying most cost-effective transport option from farm through to processor, storage facility or manufacturer, through to retailers and export ports should help.. The National Food Waste Strategy.

Principle 5. Improve information to support innovation, guide investment and enable informed consumer decisions.

Baseline data being collected and referred to in National Waste Policy and the National Food Waste Strategy as well as data on hazardous materials in Hazardous Waste in Australia 2017 are essential information.  Should not national strategies such as National Waste Policy and the National Food Waste Strategy be developed for other materials, in particular hazardous waste and plastics, under the auspices of the Department of the Environment?

 

Recently, Integrated Green Energy Solutions (IGES), announced a joint venture agreement with the Chinese Crown World Holdings to construct a waste plastic-to-fuel facility in Weifang in Shandon Province of China.  The facility will have an initial production capacity of 200 tonnes per day, producing 70 million litres of road-ready fuels per annum.  IGES’s patented plastic-to-fuel process is claimed by the company to reduce the environmental impacts of waste plastic, that would otherwise be used in landfills or discarded into the environment. .http://www.manmonthly.com.au/news/australian-company-convert-chinas-waste-plastics-fuel/

This followed the shelving of the plastic to fuel facility in Hume.  It is regrettable the expertise could not be kept and exploited in Australia.  Strategies to support innovation and research and development in waste management and recycling, and support creating and maintaining markets for recycled materials are crucial.

Download the full report with graphics, here.

Environment Report, November 2018

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

Update on Climate Change – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report:  Under the Paris Agreement 197 nations agreed to reduce global warming emissions and limit the increase in global temperature to well below 2°C relative to 1850-1900, with an aspirational 1.5°C target to avoid dangerous climate effects such as sea level rise, extreme weather and droughts.  If the planet continues to warm at the current rate of 0.2℃ per decade, the 1.5℃ increase is likely around 2040. Impacts are already being felt around the world, with declines in crop yields, biodiversity, coral reefs, and Arctic sea ice, and increases in heatwaves and heavy rainfall.  Communities and ecosystems around the world have already suffered significant impacts from the 1℃ of warming so far, and the effects at 1.5℃ will be harsher still. Small island states, deltas and low-lying coasts are at risk of increased flooding, and threats to freshwater supplies, infrastructure, and livelihoods.  Warming to 1.5℃ also poses a risk to global economic growth, with the tropics and southern subtropics potentially being hit hardest. https://theconversation.com/new-un-report-outlines-urgent-transformational-change-needed-to-hold-global-warming-to-1-5-c-103237 October 8, 2018 Mark Howden & Rebecca Colvin ANU  ; NCWA Hot Habitats2018 Report Wendy Rainbird

The IPCC Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) illustrates climate-related risks are higher for global warming of 1.5°C than at present, but lower than at 2°C.  These risks depend on the magnitude and rate of warming, geographic location, levels of development and vulnerability, and on the choices and implementation of adaptation and mitigation options

e.g. coral reefs, heat waves, vulnerability, global scale disintegration, biodiversity  flooding, exposure, degradation of ice sheets, hot spots, monetary damage.

Warming greater than the global annual average is being experienced in many land regions and seasons, including two to three times higher in the Arctic.  Warming is generally higher over land than over the ocean.sr15_spm_final.pdf; https://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/climate/unprecedented-changes-in-all-aspects-of-society-needed-to-meet-global-warming-target-ipcc-report/news-story/ecd1791a8d0cc99960525715ad9e0dc7

To limit warming to 1.5℃, carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030, reaching near-zero by around 2050.  However current national pledges under the Paris Agreement are not enough to remain within a 3℃ temperature limit, let alone 1.5℃.  Many economists advocate putting a price on emissions to do this.  https://theconversation.com/new-un-report-outlines-urgent-transformational-change-needed-to-hold-global-warming-to-1-5-c-103237 October 8, 2018 Mark Howden & Rebecca Colvin ANU 

The argument against carbon tax has been put that for many countries a carbon tax it would have no detectable impact on global temperatures or climate but impose financial disadvantage.  In the U.S. which has withdrawn from the Paris agreement, coal-fired generation fell from 2,000 TWh in 2007 to 1,200 TWh in 2017 – without a carbon tax. Three decades ago, coal-fired power plants produced 38 percent of the world’s electricity or about 3,700 terawatt-hours (TWh) per year.  It was over 9,700 TWh in 2017.  In 2017, U.S. carbon emissions were around 5,100 billion metric tons from all sources, an almost 20 percent drop below emissions in 2007.

In contrast, world carbon emissions have kept increasing: by an average of more than 300 gigatons each year for the last decade, driven primarily by China’s and India’s increasing demand for energy.  The USA questions whether it should burden itself with a carbon tax when its competitors do not.  https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/413394-flaw-in-un-climate-report-china-india-will-never-impose-carbon-tax

https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/science/each-countrys-share-of-co2.html#.W9a8js8Uncs

Similarly, some Australians are questioning why Australia which only contributes about 1% of global dioxide emissions should phase out fossil fuels.  They claim the only way to have reliable baseload power is through coal and gas.  While the traditional approach of steady, constant ‘baseload’ generation from coal augmented by flexible, dynamic ‘peaking’ generation from gas is one way of ensuring reliable electricity supply, today there are alternatives to this model.  These systems have:

In addition to the environment issues there are other issues to consider.  Small island states like Marshall Islands (an Australia’s neighbour) were pivotal in the inclusion of the 1.5°C goal.  Increasing warming amplifies the exposure of small islands, low-lying coastal areas and deltas to the risks associated with sea level rise for many human and ecological systems, including increased saltwater intrusion, flooding and damage to infrastructure (high confidence).  Populations at disproportionately higher risk of adverse consequences of global warming of 1.5°C and beyond include disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, some indigenous peoples, and local communities dependent on agricultural or coastal livelihoods (high confidence). sr15_spm_final.pdf  International cooperation is paramount.

 

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel , recommends working towards zero-emissions while maximising Australia’s economic growth.  This will require an orderly transition to be managed over several decades.  An alternative to fossil fuels could be hydrogen since Australia has the resources to produce clean hydrogen for the global market at a competitive price, on either of the two viable pathways: splitting water using solar and wind electricity, or deriving hydrogen from natural gas and coal in combination with carbon capture and sequestration.  Building an export hydrogen industry will be a major undertaking. But it will also bring jobs and infrastructure development, largely in regional communities, for decades https://theconversation.com/the-science-is-clear-we-have-to-start-creating-our-low-carbon-future-today-104774

 

Update on the impact of plastic on the environment and health: Previously I have reported that packaging was the major source of plastic waste with 40% ending up in landfill and 32% as litter in the environment.  Four to 12 million tonnes of plastics leaked into the oceans in one year.  NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Report, May 2018); The plastics industry is highly reliant on finite stocks of oil and gas, which make up more than 90% of its feedstock. Four to eight % of the world’s oil production is used to make plastics with roughly half of this is used as material process.  Considerable greenhouse gas emissions are associated with the production and sometimes the after-use pathway of plastics.  In 2012, these emissions amounted to approximately 390 million tonnes of CO2 for all plastics.  Thus the circular economy which aims to conserve resources, reduce pollution and promote efficiency would appear highly relevant to the plastic industry.

 

World Economic Forum, Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey & Company, The New Plastics Economy — Rethinking the future of plastics(2016, http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications)..

 

The potential health threats of plastics have previously been reported.  Supporting information for submissions on micro and nano plastics from NCWA & NCWQ Environment Adviser,  NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Reports, May 2018,September2018);Phthalates  is used as plasticizers to convert polyvinyl chloride (PVC) from a hard plastic to a flexible plastic. PVC is a widely used material, including extensive use in toys and other children’s products such as chewy teethers, soft figures and inflatable toys. Phthalates can be released from soft PVC by surface contact, especially where mechanical pressure is applied e.g. during chewing of a PVC teether.  Phthalates are also used as additives in ink, perfumes etc. Neeti Rustagi, S. K. Pradhan,1 and Ritesh Singh Indian J Occup Environ Med. 2011 Sep-Dec; 15(3): 100–103

In the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), USA Congress permanently prohibited children’s toys or child care articles containing concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of three types of phthalates: di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP); dibutyl phthalate (DBP); or, benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP). The CPSIA also established an interim prohibition on children’s toys that can be placed in a child’s mouth or child care articles that contain concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of diisononyl phthalate (DINP), diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP), or di-n-octyl phthalate (DNOP), On October 27, 2017, the Commission issued a final phthalates rule (16 CFR part 1307) effective April 25, 2018 making the interim prohibition on DINP permanent in addition to similar prohibition of diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP), Di-n-pentyl phthalate (DPENP), di-n-hexyl phthalate (DHEXP), and dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCHP). but lifting the interim prohibition on DIDP and DNOB. The rule applies to products manufactured or imported on or after April 25, 2018. https://www.cpsc.gov/Business–Manufacturing/Business-Education/Business-Guidance/Phthalates-Information

From 2 March 2010, certain children’s plastic products that contain, or have a component

that contains, more than 1 per cent by weight DEHP, are intended for use by children up to

and including 36 months of age and can readily be sucked and/or chewed were banned from

supply in Australia.  SupplierGuide-Children’s plastic products with more than 1percent diethylhexyl phthalate.pdf Should Australia be concerned about the other phthalates which have more than 0.1 percent in children’s toys that can be placed in a child’s mouth or child care articles and which the USA have banned?

 

To address public concern about chemicals migrating from packaging into food FSANZ undertook a project to assess whether there were any unmanaged risks from packaging chemicals migrating into food.  FSANZ has determined that estimated dietary exposure to these chemicals is low and not of concern for human health.  http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/chemicals/foodpackaging/Pages/default.aspx

 

There has been an ongoing dispute about Bisphenol A (BPA) in the literature.  Several epidemiological studies and controlled animal (mainly rodent) experiments found associations between exposure to plastic compounds such as BPA and di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate DEHP and destructive effects on health and reproduction, such as early sexual maturation, decreased male fertility, aggressive behavior. Halden Rolf U., Plastics and Public Health  Ann . Rev. Public Health 2010. 31:179–94.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of polycarbonate plastics made from BPA in baby bottles.  Canada and the European Union followed suit. . However FDA’s current perspective, based on its most recent safety assessment, is that BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in foods. https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm064437.htm#summaryr

 

In June 2010, the Australian Government announced the voluntary phase-out by major Australian retailers of polycarbonate plastic baby bottles containing BPA.  This was reported to be in response to consumer preference and demand and not an issue about product safety.  In 2016 Food Standards Australia New Zealand  (FSANZ) published the 2nd phase of the 24th Australian Total Diet Study, which screened food for packaging chemicals.  BPA wasn’t found at all in many samples and where it was detected levels were well below safety level.  http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/chemicals/bpa/pages/default.aspx

With regard to the several epidemiology studies where apparent associations between BPA exposure and adverse health effects. The FSANZ found that none of these studies had demonstrated a causal link between BPA and adverse effects in humans. http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/chemicals/bpa/Pages/bpa-response-to-studies.aspx Despite the occurrence being below critical threshold values in many cases, exceedances in certain susceptible populations, such as pregnant women and children, are known to occur in some instances.  If BPA and DEHP have endocrine-disrupting properties, there is cause for concern.  Halden Rolf U., Plastics and Public Health  Annu. Rev. Public Health 2010. 31:179–94

Surely it is safer to err on the side of precaution?

 

Download the full PDF with graphics here.

 

Environment, Annual Report 2018

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

A range of environmental issues was researched and reported on during the year. Major issues included the impact of marine debris, micro and nano-plastics on the coastal and marine environment, and the impact of mega mines in the Galilee Basin.  Advocacy was undertaken on these issues.

 

Impact of micro and nanoplastics:  In October 2015, the National Council of Women of Australia (NCWA) raised concerns with the Federal Government (FG) about the impact of microplastics on the marine environment, in particular the Great Barrier Reef, and whether toxins incorporated during manufacture or absorbed from the environment onto microplastics, were transferred to marine organisms and potentially up the food chain.  Since that time further research confirmed micro and nanoplastics contribute significantly to marine and coastal pollution and if ingested or inhaled, may transfer from the lungs and guts of organisms to their cells and tissues.  In addition, micro fibres have been found present in the air and contaminating tap water across the world.  Hence another submission was made urging the FG:

  • To support legislation to be presented at the United Nations Environment Assembly meeting in Nairobi, Kenya in December, 2017 and aimed at combating marine plastic waste and microplastics.
  • To support research and monitoring programs on the impact of micro- and nanoplastics
  • To undertake cost-effective ecological and seafood safety risk assessments on micro- and nanoplastics and associated polymers, to reduce plastic use and encourage the use of alternative materials, recycling and the adoption of sustainable practices in using plastics and managing plastic pollution.

A similar submission was submitted to the Queensland Government (QG).

 

Marine Debris:  The FG is to be congratulated on its initiatives in addressing the global problem of marine debris, especially the development of the 2017 Threat Abatement Plan.  It was pleasing to read that at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, the Australian delegate moved a draft resolution to address marine litter and microplastics and facilitated the final resolution being passed.  It is unfortunate resolutions are non-binding.  But as there appeared to be much common ground between the UN declaration and Australia’s Threat Abatement Plan, one wonders why Australia has not supported the United Nations Cleanseas campaign.

A submission was prepared urging the FG:

  • to legislate appropriate measures rather than rely on industry to voluntarily reduce pollution;
  • use the UN Environment platform to argue for countries to take responsibility of the marine waste originating in their country;
  • support research and development programs into recycling plastic; and
  • investigate opportunities to partner with overseas aid organisations, community organisations and schools to tackle existing plastic debris perhaps using the plastic to fuel converters, both the small scale and commercial depending on the situation.

 

Plastic Waste:  The production and fate of the various resins and the potential environmental and health issues have been researched together with strategies to combat the resulting plastic waste.  The FG is to be commended for negotiating with the State and Territory Governments for 100% of Australian packaging to be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025, but in order to reach this target and address the plastic waste being stockpiled or becoming landfill more measures need to be taken.  A resolution has been submitted to the NCWA Conference in October 2018 urging the Government to develop policies which encouraging new or different packaging material, the participation of the public in sorting their plastic waste by resin type, the development and expansion of businesses converting plastic waste to a useful product in a manner which safeguards human health and the environment.

 

Impact of Carmichael Coal Mine:  In a submission to the FG, the NCWA raised concerns about the impact of mega mines in the Galilee Basin, in particular the Carmichael mine.  These included:

  • Contribution to greenhouse gases including that from the coal exported overseas,
  • Impact on ground water users in the Galilee Basin.
  • Loss of biodiversity and the probability that biodiversity offsets will not adequately redress this loss.
  • Impact of dredging at Abbot Point.
  • Increased shipping within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Hence, the NCWA urged the FG to:

  • Consider the merits of the court cases with respect to groundwater, climate, ecological and economic impacts rather than just legality;
  • Reconsider the granting of critical infrastructure status and an unlimited 60-year water licence;
  • Insist that the greenhouse gases from the coal exported to India be accounted for in an environment impact statement; and
  • Reconsider the granting of a tax payer funded loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to a private multinational company.

A similar submission was submitted to the QG.

 

Details of these and other environmental issues are available in quarterly reports with references on www.ncwq.org.au

NCWQ Environment Report June 2018

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

Plastic Waste –Problem:  In 2015 global plastic production reached 322 million tonnes (Mt), a dramatic increase compared to the 279 Mt produced in 2011.  The plastics demand in the European Union was 58 Mt, of which 29.7% was recycled, 39.5% was recovered in the form of energy (mainly incineration) and 30.8% was sent to landfill  Kalargaris, Ioannis Guohong Tian, Sai Gu The utilisation of oils produced from plastic waste at different pyrolysis temperatures in a DI diesel engine Energy 131 (2017) 179e185; Association of Plastic Manufacturers Europe, Plastics e the Facts 2016. An analysis of the European plastics production, demand and waste data. European Association of Plastics Recycling and Recovery Organisations; 2016 p. 1e38.  Geyer et al estimated that 8300 Mt of virgin plastics had been produced between 1950 and 2015, of which 30% was still in use.  They estimated that in 2015, 407 Mt of primary plastics (plastics manufactured from virgin materials) entered the use phase, whereas 302 Mt left it.  Thus, in 2015, 105 Mt were added to the in-use stock.  The cumulative waste generation of primary and secondary (recycled) plastic waste amounted to 6300 Mt of which around 9% had been recycled, 12% incinerated, and 79% accumulated in landfills or the natural environment i.e. about 60% of all plastic ever produced is in landfill or litter.  Four to 12 Mt of plastic waste generated on land was estimated to enter the marine environment of all major ocean basins in 2010.  Geyer et al also noted plastics’ largest market was packaging most of which leaves use the same year they are produced

Geyer, Jambeck, Law Sci. Adv. 2017;3: e1700782; (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700782)

 

The fate of plastic packaging material is illustrated below.  With 78 Mt of plastic packaging used in 2013, only 14% was collected for recycling, 14% incinerated and the remaining 72% ended up in landfill or as litter in the environment

GLOBAL FLOWS OF PLASTIC PACKAGING MATERIALS IN 2013

World Economic Forum, Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey & Company, The New Plastics Economy — Rethinking the future of plastics(2016, http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications).. https://theconversation.com/the-new-100-recyclable-packaging-target-is-no-use-if-our-waste-isnt-actually-recycled-95857 

 

Health and Environmental Issues:  Toxins in or attached to microplastics can embed themselves in the marine food chain.  The smallest plastic particle, nanoplastics, can carry larger amounts of environmental toxicants due to their high surface/volume ratio and can enter organs and body fluids of marine or land organisms and could be a risk to humans if digested. Supporting information for submissions on micro and nano plastics from NCWA & NCWQ Environment Adviser,  Plastics, such as ethylene and propylene, derived from fossil hydrocarbons, are not biodegradable and as a result, they accumulate, rather than decompose, in landfills or the natural environment. Geyer et al  ibid  Over the very long term landfill would result in production of greenhouse gases through slow decomposition of plastic in a putrescible landfill. Final-report-Panel_Hume-Waste to-Fuel-Facility.pdf

 

Strategies to combat this waste problem include avoiding products becoming waste (reduce and reuse); finding an alternative use for waste (recycle and recover); and as a last resort, disposing safely. Unfortunately landfill can be the default for the latter..

 

Reduce and Reuse:  There can be no argument about reducing plastic waste, like using alternative material to plastic e.g. hemp bags instead of plastic bags for shopping.  However, there is a proviso on continual reuse of plastic containers.  For example to make the plastic flexible, phthalates might be used in the manufacturing of plastic bottle.  Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, a major environmental concern, and which can mimic the actions of hormones in the human body.  https://www.thoughtco.com/safest-type-of-water-bottle-1203973

 

Recycle and Recover:  The Plastics Identification Code (PIC) identifies the type of plastic resin a product is made from, its properties and possible use when recycled.

 Code  

Resin

Examples of plastic products Characteristics Examples of recycled plastic products
PET/PETE – Polyethylene Terephthalate Soft drink bottles, sleeping bag filling Clear, rigid, often used as a fibre Soft drink bottles, clear film for packaging
HDPE – High density Polyethylene Milk bottles, crinkly shopping bags Hard to semi flexible, usually opaque Wheelie bins, detergent bottles, agricultural pipes
PVC – Polyvinyl Chloride Cordial and juice bottles

Shoe soles, garden

hose

Flexible, clear and semi-elastic Pipes, tiles

Hose cores, industrial flooring

LDPE Low-density Polyethylene Ice cream lids, garbage bags Soft and flexible, waxy surface Freezer bags, plastic packaging
PP – Polypropylene Ice cream containers, crisp packets Flexible but strong Compost bins, worm farms
PS – Polystyrene

EPS Expanded Polystyrene

Yogurt pots, plastic cutlery, hot drink cups, take-away containers Rigid and brittle, clear or glassy looking, lightweight  and foam-like Clothes pegs, coat hangers
All other Plastic All other plastics Includes acrylic and nylon Varies Imitation timber and concrete products

Cleanaway Fact Sheet

However, these numbers do not mean that the items are automatically recyclable.  The PIC tells recyclers what type of plastic a product is made from.  Not all plastics are recyclable e.g. hard thermoset plastics commonly used in electronics.  Even those plastics that are recyclable often need mechanical or hand sorting into separate plastic polymer classes before they can be processed.  Currently only three of the seven categories are economically viable to recycle: PET (soft drink bottles); HDPE (milk bottles); and PVC (shampoo bottles).  The other four – LDPE (garbage bags); PP (microwaveable cookware); PS (foam hot drink cups); and other plastics are less economically viable and so are recycled at much lower rates.  https://theconversation.com/the-new-100-recyclable-packaging-target-is-no-use-if-our-waste-isnt-actually-recycled-95857  Incentives like supplying labelled bins in convenient locations could encourage the public to sort their own plastic waste. Contamination can be a problem.

Effect on human health and the environment:  Recycled plastics aren’t able to continually serve the same purpose after recycling.  The process of melting down and recycling plastic produces volatile organic compounds that can harm plant and animal life including humans near the industrial site if not carefully controlled.  Plastic is manufactured from petroleum and this substance can leech into foods stored in recycled plastic containers.  Plastic manufacturers only use a small portion of recycled plastic, if any, when producing food containers and packaging.  Because of the potential health threats recycled plastic poses, much plastic recycling is actually downcycling e.g. a plastic water bottle may be downcycled to become artificial turf or plastic furniture.https://sciencing.com/disadvantages-recycled-plastics-7254476.html

Market for recycled plastic:  Lack of market for recycled plastic can be a disincentive.  One recycling business which turns soft plastics such as milk cartons and squeezable shampoo bottles into sturdy plastic play equipment, termite-proof boardwalk decking and bollards, processes about a third of what it has the capacity to.  This firm with at least one other only accepts plastic waste from organisations willing to buy back the recycled products. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/may/22/recycling-in-australia-is-dead-in-the-water-three-companies-tackling-our-plastic-addiction.

The Federal Government is to be commended for negotiating with the State and Territory Governments  for  a target of 100% of Australian packaging to be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025.  The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation, working with its 950 member companies are to deliver this target. However, the definitions of different waste categories vary by state and territory, so there is no commonly accepted working definition of what constitutes “recyclable, compostable or reusable”.  Because some products that are technically recyclable are not accepted in most councils, kerbside recycling collection the target is unlikely to be met without policies and market incentives. e.g. Almost 80% of glass and plastic bottles are recycled in SA which has container deposit legislation compared to 65% in WA where similar legislation is only at the discussion stage. Atiq Zaman, Curtin University, advocates

  1. legislation, regulations or incentives for manufacturers to develop new packaging types;
  2. an increase in public participation rates in recycling; and
  3. the development of a strong domestic market for recyclable materials.

https://theconversation.com/the-new-100-recyclable-packaging-target-is-no-use-if-our-waste-isnt-actually-recycled-95857

Conversion of plastic waste to fuel:  Geyer et al note the vast majority of monomers used to make plastics, such as ethylene and propylene, are derived from fossil hydrocarbons.  None of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable so they accumulate, rather than decompose, in landfills or the natural environment. The only way to permanently eliminate plastic waste is by destructive thermal treatment, such as combustion or pyrolysis. Geyer et al, ibid

 

The pyrolysis process to convert plastic waste to oil, the suitability of various plastics for this process and some of the commercial machines available to do this have been reported previously.  Some types of plastics e.g. pure hydrocarbons, such as polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) are more suitable than others for using this technology NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Reports, February 2018  Many Australian jurisdictions specify that the waste sourced as input for waste to energy plants must target genuine residual waste that cannot feasibly be reused or recycled. Final-report-Panel_Hume-Waste to-Fuel-Facility.pdf  A commercial scale facility capable of converting waste plastics to fuel at a rate of 50 feedstock tonnes per day was commissioned in NSW by Integrated Green Energy (IGE) with Foyson Resources using a catalytic restructuring process. http://plasticpyrolysisplants.com/50-tpd-plastics-to-diesel-plant-produces-first-batch-in-australia/  However, in a Report to the ACT Minister for Planning and Land Management on the Proposed FOY Group plastic to fuel facility in Hume industrial zone, an independent panel noted the IGE proposal was not supported by NSW EPA as the “proof of performance” requirement in the NSW Energy from Waste Policy was met. Final-report-Panel_Hume-Waste to-Fuel-Facility.pdf  The company also planned a plastics-to-fuel plant that would convert 73 tonnes of plastic into 77.5 million litres of fuel a year to be built at Hume in the ACT.  The company claimed their technology removed ash, dealt with hydrocarbon contaminants, and used waste gas for heating to burn off gas at a high enough temperature to destroy noxious compounds. https://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/act/foy-group-walks-away-from-plasticstofuel-plant-in-hume-20180114-h0i0qw.html  The independent panel reported the company’s environmental impact statement failed to sufficiently address key risks, including the risk of explosions, the potential damage to surrounding land, and the effects on air quality.  They also recommended ACT should have a “proof of performance” requirement.  Hence the plan was shelved. https://the-riotact.com/foys-planned-oil-refinery-has-hit-a-major-obstacle/202920  Recently, Integrated Green Energy Solutions (IGES), announced a joint venture agreement with the Chinese Crown World Holdings to construct a waste plastic-to-fuel facility in Weifang in Shandon Province of China.  The facility will have an initial production capacity of 200 tonnes per day, producing 70 million litres of road-ready fuels per annum.  IGES’s patented plastic-to-fuel process is claimed by the company to reduce the environmental impacts of waste plastic, that would otherwise be used in landfills or discarded into the environment. .http://www.manmonthly.com.au/news/australian-company-convert-chinas-waste-plastics-fuel/  The Hume-Waste to-Fuel-Facility Panel also noted that most proposed energy from waste facilities in Australia have not progressed to a commercial operation due to unanticipated complexities dealing with contamination in the mixed waste stream, resulting in mechanical handling problems, plant damage or failure to reliably comply with contemporary air emission standards.  An additional complication can be the challenge of maintaining a sustainable product in a marketplace where this competes with conventional products, and is influenced by world oil prices. Final-report-Panel_Hume-Waste to-Fuel-Facility.pdf   Maybe, given the waste disposal problem exasperated by China’s ban on imported solid waste, the need  for sustainable continuous energy supply and that Australia only has 48 days aggregated fuel reserves, the limitation on resin type to be used in waste to energy plants should be reconsidered.

Another method of producing fuel from plastic waste is Gasification which involves heating the waste plastic with air or steam, to produce a valuable industrial gas mixtures called “synthesis gas”, or syngas. This can then be used to produce diesel and petrol, or burned directly in boilers to generate electricity http://theconversation.com/if-we-cant-recycle-it-why-not-turn-our-waste-plastic-into-fuel-96128

However pyrolysis is reported to have better advantages towards environmental pollution and reduction of carbon footprint of plastic products. Pyrolysis minimizes the emissions of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide compared to combustion and gasification. A review on thermal and catalytic pyrolysis of plastic solid waste https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301479717302992

 

Environment Report, September 2017

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environmental Adviser

A range of environmental issues were researched and reported on during the year. Threats to Great Barrier Reef and global warming remain major issues. Advocacy was undertaken on these issues.

Threats to Great Barrier ReefThe Queensland Government (QG) has accepted and is implementing the recommendations of the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce (GBRWST), including enhanced communication, increased levels of agricultural extension, a greater focus on innovation, expanded monitoring, financial and other incentives, and staged and targeted regulations. Early in the year, a submission was made urging the QG to ensure the recommendations come to fruition.

The QG commissioned the GBRWST to investigate the cost of various policy options to meet the reef water quality targets (sediment runoff to be reduced by 50% in the Fitzroy, Burdekin and Wet Tropics regions, and nitrogen levels by 80% in Burdekin and Wet Tropics catchments; sediment runoff by 20% and nitrogen levels by 50% in Mackay-Whitsunday and Burnett Mary catchments) below 2009 levels. The GBRWST estimated a cost of $8.2 billion using current methods and prices to reach the targets with a little more to be done in the Wet Tropics. However, by spending around $600 million in the most cost-effective areas halfway to the nitrogen and sediment targets could be achieved, allowing time to find more cost-effective solutions to close the remaining gap.

Unfortunately, for the second consecutive year the GBR suffered mass coral bleaching. In addition, tropical cyclone Debbie with to its category four intensity and slow speed impacted around a quarter of the Reef. There are also ongoing impacts from crown-of-thorns starfish, coral disease and poor water quality from coastal run-off. Recovery from bleaching is likely to be slower than from other impacts.

On 26-27May 2017, more than 70 leading marine experts from around the world met in Townsville for a Reef Summit to determine what else could be done to protect the Reef in addition to the existing extensive actions which were strongly supported. Additional options explored were developing coral nurseries, strategies for extending culling activities for the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, protecting herbivorous fish, expanding the vessel monitoring system and identifying priority reefs and demonstration sites for coral restoration.

The World Heritage Committee (WHC)’s 41st session held in July 2017 in Krakow, Poland recognised the significant effort underway to build the resilience of the GBR under the Australian Government(AG) and QG’s’ Reef 2050 Plan but noted the mass coral bleaching of 2016 and 2017 and that climate change remained the most significant overall threat to the future of the GBR. The WHC strongly encouraged accelerating efforts to meet the intermediate and long-term targets of the plan, essential to the overall resilience of the GBR, in particular those regarding water quality.

Reducing Australia’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions: At the National Council of Women Australia (NCWA) Conference on June 15th 2017 the resolution “The NCWA urges the AG to give priority to strategies combating global warming by reducing greenhouse gases and promoting renewable energy, while ensuring energy security, given the implication for Australia’s environment and such unique ecosystems as the GBRwas passed unanimously. Supporting arguments included:-

  • Scientific evidence of the increase in greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) and the relationship with global temperature.
  • Scientific evidence that human greenhouse gas emissions resulting in climate changes cannot be explained by natural causes
  • Impact of global warming on the GBR
  • Alternative energy resources and renewable energy storage
  • Integration of variable renewable energy into the power system grids

Details of these and other environmental issues are available in quarterly reports with references on www.ncwq.org.au

 

NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Report, July 2017

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser

Update on Great Barrier Reef (GBR): Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has confirmed an estimated 29 % of shallow water corals died from bleaching in 2016, up from the 22 % estimated mid-2016. Also coral bleaching extended to deeper corals beyond depths divers typically survey to, but that mortality cannot be systematically assessed. In 2017, further coral loss is expected with a pattern similar to 2016, but most severe in the centre of the Reef between Cairns and Townsville. Ongoing thermal stress is also causing elevated coral disease.

Tropical cyclone Debbie impacted around a quarter of the Reef in early 2017. Due to its category four intensity and slow speed as it crossed the reef, coral mortality is expected to be high in this zone, which includes the Whitsunday Islands tourism area.

There are also ongoing impacts from crown-of-thorns starfish, coral disease and poor water quality from coastal run-off. Recovery from bleaching is likely to be slower than from other impacts. http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/media-room/latest-news/coral-bleaching/2017/significant-coral-decline-and-habitat-loss-on-the-great-barrier-reef

On 26-27May 2017, more than 70 leading marine experts from around the world met in Townsville for a Reef Summit to determine what else could be done to protect the Reef in addition to the existing extensive actions which were strongly supported. Additional options explored were developing coral nurseries, strategies for extending culling activities for the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, protecting herbivorous fish, expanding the vessel monitoring system and identifying priority reefs and demonstration sites for coral restoration.” http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/media-room/latest-news/corporate/2017/reef-summit-sets-new-course-of-action-for-the-great-barrier-reef

The World Heritage Committee (WHC)’s 41st session held in July 2017 in Krakow, Poland recognised the significant effort underway to build the resilience of the GBR under the Australian and Queensland governments’ Reef 2050 Plan but noted the mass coral bleaching of 2016 and 2017 and that climate change remained the most significant overall threat to the future of the GBR. The WHC strongly encouraged accelerating efforts to meet the intermediate and long-term targets of the plan, essential to the overall resilience of the GBR, in particular those regarding water quality.http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2017/whc17-41com-7BAdd-en.pdf

Paddock to Reef Integrated Monitoring, Modelling and Reporting Program: Wetlands in the Central Queensland (19), Cape York (10), Far North Queensland (5), North Queensland (6) and Wide Bay Burnett (10) regions, which are representative of the natural freshwater wetlands, have been assessed to provide baseline data of the GBR catchment wetlands’ conditions and processes so that positive and negative trends can be detected over time. Wetlands can not only reduce the impact of sediment run-off from river and creek systems but are also intrinsically invaluable in their own right, recharging ground water, providing important habitat for a diversity of wildlife, including commercially important species of fish. http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2017/7/15/fifty-wetlands-assessed-under-qldfirst-research-project  Preliminary results of research by Dr Fernanda Adame from Griffith University’s Australian Rivers Institute, indicate wetlands can remove nitrogen from the water and that forested wetlands have higher carbon and nitrogen storage capacity compared to marshes. http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2017/7/16/palaszczuk-governmentbacked-great-barrier-reef-research-shows-early-promise

Clean energy technologies: The Clean Energy Finance Corporation, has invested around $20 million into a project at the Pilgangoora open pit mine.(Western Australia)  which produces lithium concentrate, an essential component in electric vehicles and battery storage. http://www.environment.gov.au/minister/frydenberg/media-releases/mr20170627.htm

Tidal energy which is created through tidal movement and the vertical fluctuations in sea level and the horizontal flow of the water, has the potential to be available for more than 18 hours a day. The only slack period between high and low tide is predictable so tidal generation technology could be integrated to enhance the country’s grid stability, or to provide support to off-grid industrial sites and remote communities. A $6 million three year project led by the Australian Maritime College at the University of Tasmania, in partnership with CSIRO and University of Queensland and supported by a $2.5 million investment by the Australian Government through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, will map the scale and distribution of Australia’s tidal energy resources. Potential sites and the technical performance modelling of known tidal energy devices and environmental impact will be assessed.http://www.environment.gov.au/minister/frydenberg/media-releases/mr20170713.html?utm_source=mins&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=feed

New Acland Stage 3 mine expansion at Oakey, Darling Downs: On 31 May 2017 Queensland Land Court recommended outright rejection of the New Acland Stage 3 mine proposal to expand coal production to 7.5 million tonnes per year on the following grounds:-

  1. Groundwater: Major shortcomings with the groundwater impact predictions proposed risks to the surrounding landholders;
  2. Noise: A stricter night time noise limit should be applied but is not permitted by the current legislation;
  3. Agricultural land was among the best 1.5% of agricultural land in Queensland and significant from an agricultural perspective;
  4. Intergenerational equity;
  5. Economics: While there would be a positive economic impact overall the loss of $437 million in royalties was significant and the high job figures in the Environmental Impact Study are not supported, rather 680 net jobs were accepted;
  6. Dust: If the mine was to proceed, it should be subject to additional monitoring requirements, including online real time forecasts and results, and additional dust limits to protect nearby residents; http://www.edoqld.org.au/news/key-findings-acland-coal-v-ashman-ors-and-dehp-no-4-2017-qlc-24/

The Maranoa-Balonne-Condamine assessment conducted by CSIRO and Geoscience and drawing on advice from Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas Extraction and Large Coal Mines found that impacts of the New Acland Stage 3 coal mine expansion and The Range coal mine on water resources in the region will be limited to small areas near the mines.  http://www.environment.gov.au/minister/frydenberg/media-releases/mr20170713a.html?utm_source=mins&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=feed : www.bioregionalassessments.gov.au/assessments/maranoa-balonne-condamine-subregion

Proposed Bio-industries: Bio Processing Australia has proposed a $50 million biorefinery at Mackay with $8.64 million assistance from the Queensland Government. The facility will comprise:-

A commercial-scale advanced biofuels pilot plant in Yarwun, Gladstone will take agricultural waste such as bagasse from sugar production and turn it into biofuels. http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2017/6/1/new-gladstone-plant-a-boost-for-biofuel-industry-in-queensland

Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environment Adviser