Mine reappears on list of suspects: Lead source inquiry welcomed

OceanaGold’s mine at Macraes. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
OceanaGold’s mine at Macraes. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
OceanaGold has welcomed investigations under way to rule out all possible sources of lead in an Otago community’s water supply even after the mining company resurfaced on a list of possible suspects this week.

A no-drink notice was issued for Waikouaiti, Hawksbury and Karitane on February 2 after it was revealed high lead levels had been recorded in the water supply.

When the Dunedin City Council said this week it was replacing several kilometres of old pipes in the area at a cost of about $6million, council Three Waters group manager Tom Dyer included OceanaGold’s Macraes mine in a list of possible contamination sources suggested by the community that were still being considered.

The mine at Macraes is being considered along with old landfills in the area, lead shot or fishing tackle in the catchment, or sampling or analytical errors.

In a brief media session after a packed public meeting at the East Otago Events Centre on Wednesday, Mr Dyer said that the council had "largely" ruled out lead discharges from the mine, but other "water chemistry changes" could have had an impact downstream.

"Our work on that is not yet complete, but we are working closely with representatives of the mine and Otago Regional Council staff to work that through," he said.

Mr Dyer was not available for comment yesterday.

Just days after the no-drink notice was issued, OceanaGold pointed to its own extensive sampling record and said it was not involved in the contamination.

Yesterday a company spokeswoman again said the water supply contamination was not associated with the Macraes mine or the company’s gold-mining activities.

The company used an accredited independent laboratory to test all water in and around the operation for multiple trace elements, including lead, monthly, and the operation had recorded nothing close to the current New Zealand drinking water standard breached in the council water supply, the spokeswoman said.

Additionally, employees who could be exposed to any industrial material were also tested and none of those tests had returned results indicating elevated lead levels as a result of working at the mine, she said.

hamish.maclean@odt.co.nz — Additional reporting Daisy Hudson

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