By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environment Adviser

Scientific studies found organisms such as mussels, lugworms, lobsters and fish have ingested microplastics and in some cases absorbed toxins in their tissue. Supporting Information from NCWQ Environment Adviser, P.M. Pepper B.Sc. M.Sc. Ph.D. and NCWQ Nutrition Adviser & NCWQ Consumer Affairs Adviser Mrs Val Cocksedge OAM, DipHSc. Microplastics 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. Nanoparticles produced during fragmentation of microplastics can translocate across the gut epithelium resulting in systemic exposure, and a very wide distribution in all organs is likely. However, specific data for nanoplastics are not available. Lusher et al note further research into analytical methods, especially for nanoplastics; occurrence of microplastics (<150 μm) and nanoplastics (<100 nm = 0.1 μm) in seafood, and toxicological research on microplastics and nanoplastics, is needed to determine food safety risk. 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.

The UNEA (United Nations Environment Assembly) report (2016) entitled “Marine plastic debris and microplastics- Global lessons and research to inspire action and guide policy change” recognized the possible negative impact to this plastic debris ecologically, socially and economically. At the UNEA meeting planned for 4-6 December, 2017 in Nairobi, Kenya, two options aimed at combating marine plastic litter and microplastics are to be presented: adapt existing treaties or introduce a new international treaty specifically to combat plastic pollution.;

In their 16 May 2017 report “ Synthetic Polymer Contamination in Global Drinking Water” M Kosuth, S.A. Mason, C. Tyree and D Morrison draw attention to the high density of plastic particles per litre of tap water in seven countries. Of 159 samples analysed, 83% were found to contain plastic particles, 94% in the USA. The presence of microplastics in tapwater is particularly concerning because it points to substantial contamination of terrestrial and freshwater—as well as marine—ecosystems Little is known about the effects of microplastic consumption on human health. Microplastics and human health—an urgent problem e Lancet Planetary Health Volume 1, Issue 7, October 2017, Page e254 The Plastic Soup Foundation suggests microfibers can enter water supplies through machine washing synthetic clothing such as fleece, polyester, and nylon. These clothing fibers are often too small to be filtered out at wastewater treatment plants. Around 63% of clothing consists of synthetic materials or a mix of natural and synthetic fibers

Research at Plymouth University, UK found that laundering an average washing load of 6kg washed at 30˚C and 40˚C using various combinations of detergent and fabric conditioner could release an estimated 137,951 fibres from polyester-cotton blend fabric, 496,030 fibres from polyester and 728,789 from acrylic.

In Europe the Life + Mermaids consortium, recently performed research into microfibre loss in washing machines, and managed to reduce fibre loss by 50% with bio-based coatings made from shrimp (chitosan) and plants (pectin). The Cora Ball, inspired by the natural functions of coral and developed by The Rozalia Project in the United States and the Guppy Friend washing bag by Berlin outdoor brand Langbrett have a filtering function during the washing cycle. However it would also be helpful if local municipalities could improve their filtration systems and the fashion industry could be persuaded to move away from synthetic fabrics.

Liebezeit & Liebezeit (2014) analysed 24 German beer brands for the contents of microplastic fibres, fragments and granular material, and in all cases found contamination. Counts for microplastic fibres ranged from 2 to 79 fibres per litre. Liebezeit G, Liebezeit E. 2014. Synthetic particles as contaminants in German beers. Food Add Contam: Part A. 31:1574-1578.
Liebezeit & Liebezeit (2013) also found microplastic contamination in honeys. Liebezeit G, Liebezeit E. 2013. Non-pollen particulates in honey and sugar. Food Add Contam: Part A. 30:2136–2140. However, Muhlschlegel,Hauk,Walter & Sieber found no indications that honey samples from Switzerland were significantly contaminated with microplastic particles. Muhlschlegel,Hauk,Walter & Sieber (2017) Lack of evidence for microplastic contamination in honey. Food Add Contam: Part A. 34:2136–2140
In a Parisian study microplastics, mostly fibres, were found in atmospheric fallout (29 to 280 particles/m2/day).
Rachid Dris, Johnny Gasperi, Vincent Rocher, Saad Mohamed, Bruno Tassin. Microplastic contamination in an urban area: case of greater Paris. SETAC Europe 2015 (Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry), May 2015, Barcelone, Spain. 2015

Submission: Since submissions on the impact of Microplastics, to the Queensland and Federal Governments in April and November 2015 respectively, further research has confirmed microplastics 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. Now, it is of grave concern that micro fibres have been found present in the air and contaminating tap water across the world. Hence further submissions have been prepared.


The Carmichael mine will be Australia’s largest coalmine with a potential production of 2.3 billion tonnes of thermal a lifetime of up to 60 years. Coal from the mine is proposed to be transported by a new 189km rail line to the Port of Abbot Point for export principally to India to be burnt for electricity production. Adani also proposes to expand the Port of Abbot Point to increase its capacity. The scale of this proposed mine means the potential environmental harm could be enormous not only in the Galilee Basin, but downstream in the rail corridor to Abbot Point, at the port at Abbot point and then the shipping passage through the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). These dangers have been previously documented. NCWQ submissions on 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

COURT CASES: There have been a number of court cases and appeals.

Two cases were brought in the Federal Court of Australia under the ADMINISTRATIVE DECISIONS (JUDICIAL REVIEW) ACT 1977 (Cth) against the decisions of the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment to approve the mine under the ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION AND BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION ACT 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act). The application brought by the Mackay Conservation Group contended the Minister failed to take into account the climate impact of greenhouse gases emitted by the burning of coal from the Carmichael mine, failed to consider Adani’s poor record of environmental management in India and did not consider “approved conservation advice” for two endangered species (yakka skink and ornamental snake) that would be affected by the mine, as required by federal law, when assessing whether to grant its licence.

The case by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) was based on whether the minister correctly applied the law when considering the impacts of the project on the Great Barrier Reef Australia has an international legal obligation to do all it can to protect our the Reef for future generations. The EPBC Act states the Minister must not act inconsistently with Australia’s responsibilities under the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the World Heritage Convention). Both cases were unsuccessful.

However, the limited role of a court in judicial review proceedings is often stressed by courts in controversial cases. The Federal Court’s function on a judicial review is confined as it is to a review of the legality, and not the merits, of the Minister’s decision.

In the major dispute in the Land Court of Queensland and a subsequent judicial review challenge to the mine’s approval in the Supreme Court of Queensland, Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) Qld, the legal representation for Land Services of Coast and Country Inc. (Coast and Country) (LSCC), sought a clear recommendation that the Adani Carmichael coal mine should not proceed due to groundwater, climate, ecological and economic impacts. On Tuesday 15 December 2015, the Land Court recommended approval of the Adani Carmichael coal mine to the Queensland Government, subject to extra conditions to protect the Black-throated Finch. The environmental authority for the mine was granted under Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (EPA) on 2 February 2016 and the mining lease for the mine was granted under the Mineral Resources Act 1989 (MRA) on 3 April 2016. An application then an amended application by LSCC for a judicial review of the grant of the environmental authority under the EPA, was dismissed to the Supreme Court of Queensland on 25 October 2016.

Two separate disputes about the mine involve native title issues raised by the Traditional Owners of the land on which the mine was proposed, the Wangan and Jagalingou People, were unsuccessfully litigated.

LOANS: Adani has requested A$1 billion to assist the development of mining infrastructure e.g. a rail line from the mine to the Abbot Point coal loading facility, from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) – a A$5 billion discretionary government fund set up in 2016 to promote economic development in the country’s north. The Constitution states that it is the Commonwealth Parliament that must determine both the loan and its conditions. However, the NAIF Act grants these powers to a corporate board, which answers only indirectly to the Parliament. Second, the Constitution states that it is the State that must receive the loan. Concerns have been raised that the State could simply pass on the tax funded loan to a private multinational company and the appropriateness of this.;

JOBS: Claims are that the Adani Carmichael coalmine will offer up to 10,000 new jobs, mainly in Queensland. But Jerome Fahrer, who prepared an economic assessment of the Carmichael mine for Adani, admitted in court that over the life of the Project it is projected that on average around 1,464 employee years of full time equivalent direct and indirect jobs will be created.; carmichael43A.pdf

One has to wonder if jobs to help keep the GBR pristine, perhaps funded by a levy on tourist operators, might be a better investment long term?

WATER: Carmichael coal mine has been granted an unlimited 60-year water licence to take water from the Great Artesian Basin. Water pressure is an issue with flows from artesian bores are 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. April 13, 2017.

The drawdown of water by the Carmichael coal mine could reduce water reaching the Mellaluka and Doongmabulla Springs Complexes, which have exceedingly high conservation value.

According to an environmental impact statement, the mine will draw 26 million litres of water a day from its pits by 2029 as annual production could reach as much as 60 million tonnes. The vibrancy of other major Australian industries that rely on water resources, land and healthy ecosystems, such as agriculture and reef tourism could potentially be undermined. Risky Business: Health, Climate and Economic Risks of the Carmichael Coalmine by Professor Will Steffen, Professor Hilary Bambrick, Dr. David Alexander and Dr. Martin Rice. Climate Council of Australia Ltd 2017. Why the preferential treatment over producing food and the environment?

RISK: 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. Report_Earthjustice and Environmental Justice Australia. The Adani Groups Global Environmental Record_29 Oct 2015.pdf

CONCERNS: Concerns about the impact of this mega project include
• Contribution to greenhouse gases including that from the coal exported overseas,
• Impact on ground water users,
• 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.

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