An Australian mining company is being investigated as hundreds of square kilometers of agricultural land near the town of Chinchilla in Queensland, have been poisoned by a mixture of explosive gases and toxic chemicals.
According to a leaked document by Queensland’s environment department which was obtained by ABC News, Linc Energy’s mining operations have already caused “irreversible” damage to crop lands.
RT reports: Underground coal gasification (UCG) activities at the plant have resulted in permanent acidification of the area, the paper states. Specialists measured critical concentrations of hydrogen in the soil reaching the explosive level. They also found anomalous levels of methane and cancer-causing benzene in the soil.
“We have found gases in quantities above the explosive limit. In our reconnaissance boreholes, explosive levels have been found that indicate very much higher concentrations in the soil atmosphere,” according to the report.
It also states that soil pollution within a 320 square kilometer area around the plant could be dangerous to people’s health,
Four of the department’s investigators were taken to hospital with suspected gas poisoning after soil testing in March, ABC News reported citing other released documents.
“While completing the works, I heard gas detector alarms sounding and was advised by Dr Gargiulo that high levels of toxic gas were detected in the area where we were augering, which was dangerous to our personal health and safety,” said Paul Bergin, senior investigator.
“We then stopped work and vacated the site, due to concerns for our health and safety, and attended the Chinchilla hospital. My nausea lasted for several hours. I was also informed by the treating doctor that my blood tests showed elevated carbon monoxide levels,” he added.
The authors of the report surmised that the pressure for coal seam fracturing during UCG had been too high, damaged surrounding rocks and consequently leading to the escape of toxic gases.
“Not only was the pressure high enough to fracture the coal seam, it was also high enough to fracture the overburden. Once this fracturing had occurred, it was unsafe to ignite the coal seam,” the study says.
Besides the harm inflicted on the environment, the report accuses Linc Energy of “gross interference to the health and wellbeing of former workers.”
“When I was at work I would often get headaches. The headaches would be worst during night-shift especially in the mornings,” said one of the former workers.
“When you were working at night, when there was no breeze, your personal gas detector would be constantly alarming to the extent that I’d get in my vehicle and drive off site for a few kilometers before it would stop alarming. I just had to breathe fresh air,” told another one.
In a statement for the media, Linc Energy refuted all report’s accusations, claiming that the investigation had been a “monumental mishandling of Queensland’s strained financial resources.” The company claims that the detected gases were being released as a part of naturally occurring processes.
It also said that work conditions at the plant had been satisfactory.