Aerial view of Gladstone Power Station.
Aerial view of Gladstone Power Station. Matt Taylor GLA230519STOCK

Environmental group, power station clash over coal ash rules

AN ENVIRONMENTAL group is calling for the government to investigate the threat of coal ash in areas near coal-fired power stations.

The Environmental Justice Association released Unearthing Australia's toxic coal ash legacy this week.

It documents flaws in the management and regulation of coal-ash dumps, including at Gladstone Power Station.

The report, by a not-for-profit group of lawyers, said the toxic by-product of coal-fired power - if not strictly disposed - could contaminate air, soil and water and lead to serious health and environmental impacts.

The report said Gladstone Power Station's ash dumps were located in a flood zone and that its Ash Management Plan was not publicly available.

"It is unclear what measures are implemented to ensure the surrounding waterways are protected from contamination during flooding events," the report reads.

"Nor is it clear what mitigation measures are implemented to prevent ash dump contaminants seeping into the Calliope River and surrounding estuaries."

Gladstone Power Station general manager Chuck Mason said the company had "stringent controls" in place and was fully complaint in its regulatory obligations for coal-ash management.

He said between January and June, more than 80 per cent of the power station's coal ash was recycled and sold to the cement industry for industrial re-use.

"Ash stored at GPS is held in a fully bunded and controlled dry-placement facility and appropriate stormwater retention and discharge occurs in accordance with GPS's licence arrangements," he said in a statement."

Mr Mason said the company operated under strict legislative environmental standards and worked with regulators to "safeguard" the environment in Gladstone.

As a member of the Ash Development Association of Australia, Mr Mason said the power station continued to look into new market opportunities for coal-combustion products.

Report author and EJA lawyer Bronya Lipski said despite coal ash being an "enormous toxic legacy" , its management largely flew under the radar.

"Lax government regulation and poor management of coal-ash dumps has led to the contamination of groundwater, rivers, lakes and aquatic ecosystems as well as toxic air pollution from dried out dumps," Ms Lipski said.

"Communities closest to coal-fired power stations bear the greatest health and environmental burden.

"Some of the ash dumps in Australia are very close to communities ... most are extremely close to waterways.

"State parliaments need to initiate inquiries into ash dumps to comprehensively investigate the current and future threat, make sure rigorous solutions are determined to clean up contamination, and start planning for rehabilitation and closure that adheres to best practice standards."

The report found coal ash was "by far" Queensland's largest single waste stream, with Queensland power stations producing 5.5million tonnes of coal ash per year.

The report makes seven recommendations including: for governments to hold inquiries into the problem, create national rehabilitation plans, tougher groundwater regulations and financial security from energy companies.