Existing coal ash management and reuse practices are failing to prevent the contamination of ecosystems in Lake Macquarie and across the Hunter, a new report has found.
Out of the Ashes II, produced by the Hunter Community Environment Centre, also estimated 100 tonnes of heavy metals leach into NSW waterways every year from the combined 216 million tonnes of accumulated coal ash waste in Lake Macquarie (101 million tonnes) the Central Hunter Valley (84 million tonnes), Central Tablelands (28 million tonnes) and Wollongong (3 million tonnes).
Coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal at power plants, represents 18 per cent of all waste produced in Australia. In NSW there is 200 million tonnes of ash is stored in unlined waste dams.
The state government is liable for the bulk of the pollution stemming from coal ash waste
"Contamination studies from 2014 commissioned by NSW Treasury to quantify pollution levels at coal-ash dumps before the privatisation of the NSW coal-fleet show extensive groundwater, surface water and sediment contamination with heavy metals at all NSW coal-ash waste sites," a report summary says.
"Our analysis suggested that these studies underestimate the contamination levels due to poorly selected and limited background wells."
The report's authors also analysed water quality data, which showed numerous exceedances of Australian water quality guidelines relating to heavy metals.
"Industry studies into coal ash confirm that NSW ash poses environmental risks for selenium, molybdenum, boron, vanadium, nickel, zinc and copper," the report said.
A spokesman for Origin Energy, which runs Eraring Power Station, said the company was seeking an external review of the paper by subject matter experts.
"Origin takes our environmental monitoring and reporting obligations extremely seriously, for example Eraring's water monitoring program exceeds regulatory requirements. This monitoring program shows regular compliance with the power station's EPA licence conditions," the spokesman said.
"While Eraring has the highest ash recycling rate of all NSW coal generators (as acknowledged by the report's authors), we are working hard to further increase ash recycling rates by investing in new technologies, exploring new markets and advocating for the removal of regulatory impediments."
Originhas already constructed a private haul road paved with a pavement product with an ash content of 92 per cent.