Government to probe toxic blasts at New Acland

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The Queensland Government has launched an investigation into how an explosive blast at New Hope’s New Acland coal mine produced a cloud of potentially toxic gas.

On September 5 a blast to shift overburden at the open-cut New Acland mine gave rise to an orange plume of nitrogen dioxide gas which dissipated near a public road.

The Government’s mine division said it had decided to investigate the incident after receiving a report from New Hope.

The Australian reports today that residents living near the mine are not being told by officials when the toxic plumes occur.

University of NSW mining and engineering senior lecturer Duncan Chalmers said judging by the photo the plume looked serious.

“It would depend on the concentration but if you were in the middle of that you would be very sick,” he said.

“If I was a resident living close to that mine I would be quite concerned because the gas is dangerous.

Chalmers said under normal circumstances the gas would not be produced.

“If the weather is too bad for them to fire you have to leave them in the ground longer and the longer you leave them in the ground, the greater the chance for the explosives to deteriorate because of ground water and clay minerals and other things.”

Nitrogen dioxide gas can turn into nitric acid in a person’s lungs once inhaled.

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New Hope chief operating officer Bruce Denney said all the necessary checks and requirements had been followed prior to the blast.

He said wind direction and velocity as well as weather conditions were assessed.

“It is important to note that blasts are conducted with at least six blast guards as well as a shot firer and a blast controller,” he said.

The New Acland plume is among a number of recent dangerous blasts in the Queensland industry amid rising production targets.

In March a number of Queensland coal miners were hospitalised following exposure to nitrogen dioxide after blasting went wrong.

The plume is also the latest problem for the troubled Acland site, which is in the midst of a pay dispute with workers.

Yesterday the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union told Australian Mining New Hope executives had given themselves large bonuses but were refusing to raise wages for workers.

But New Hope CEO Rob Neale rejected the comments and said workers had been offered substantial pay rises.

Image: The Australian – Rory Callinan

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