The ABC reports that Glencore claims the rock ‘self-combusted’ in December of last year in oven-like conditions when pyrite iron sulphide was dumped on top of it.
The company said that since that time they have been trying to put the fire out, but with no success. One unsuccessful attempt involved coating the rocks with lime and clay.
Local communities are saying that Glencore’s response to the long-running problem is not good enough and they are demanding that Glencore act faster to stop the smoke.
The chair of the NT’s Environment Protection Authority, Dr Bill Freeland said Glencore had been asked to carry out another Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) outlining how the company plans to address the problem.
“If it was allowed to continue and the mine continued producing waste rock and it was not managed, the potential for harm for the whole McArthur River and potentially out into the seagrass beds in the Pellew Islands is potentially significant,” Dr Freeland said.
However the EIS could take up to two years to complete.
The mine, one of the world’s biggest producers of zinc, lead and silver, is approximately 70 km from the community of Borroloola on the McArthur River.
Senior Garawa man Jack Green told the ABC that he was worried about what affect the large plume of smoke could have on the health of locals.
“It doesn’t hurt people from outside,” he said. “But it hurts the Aboriginal people who are from this land.”
The ABC reports that Traditional Owners, are also concerned that iron sulphide from the mine could wash into local waterways during the upcoming wet season and turn into corrosive sulphuric acid.
The McArthur River Mine said it discharges no water from its site into surrounding waterways “except under approved conditions” and all discharges meet Australian water quality standards.