ERA mining fined for uranium contamination of water for workers

Australian uranium mining company Energy Resources Australia has been fined AUS$150,000 after being found guilty of a series of contamination breaches at its Ranger mine.

Two of the charges relate to incidents concerning the connection of the drinking water systems with the process water systems – used during uranium extraction – at the Ranger uranium processing plant in March 2004. Another relates to contaminated vehicles leaving the site.

Twenty-eight workers fell ill after drinking and showering in water contaminated with 400 times the legal limit of uranium. Symptoms included vomiting, headaches and skin rashes.

A total of 159 workers were exposed to the contamination.

In separate incidents, three works vehicles left the site contaminated with uranium ore.

The company has been ordered to pay the prosecution costs of the case, AUS$25,000, in addition to the fine. However, environmental groups have said the fine does not meet the seriousness of the breach.

ERA Chief Executive Harry Kenyon-Slaney, said the incidents were deeply regrettable and had resulted in the company’s first prosecution in 25 years.

“These incidents affected a lot of people and I would like to apologise again to our employees and to the wider community,” he said. “In conjunction with our regulators we have introduced a wide range of measures designed to prevent incidents of this nature from ever occurring in the future.”

He pointed out that, late last year and early this year, the company was subject to three Commonwealth Government audits assessing how the it had implemented recommendations arising from the Supervising Scientist’s reports in to these incidents.

“I am pleased to say we passed each audit successfully,” Mr Kenyon-Slaney said.

By David Hopkins

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