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Australian miner says any derailment spill 'diluted'
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) Dec 29, 2011

An Australian mining company said Thursday that any hazardous copper concentrate from its operations that may have washed into floodwaters when a freight train derailed had likely been "highly diluted."

OZ Minerals said up to 1,200 tonnes of the substance, which is classed as dangerous and has strict transport conditions, was thought to have plunged into the river when the train derailed in the Northern Territory early Tuesday.

"Given the large volume of water flowing through the system it is likely that any concentrate that has been impacted by the water would be highly diluted," the company said in a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange.

"From an environmental perspective, in consultation with the relevant authorities, concentrate that is accessible will be cleaned up when the area can be safely accessed."

Due to limited access to the area because of the flooding and associated damage, OZ Minerals said it had been difficult to determine "exactly how much copper concentrate may have been directly impacted by the derailment."

There had been about 1,500 tonnes of concentrate on the train in total, worth US$7-8 million, an amount "not considered financially material for the company," it added.

Head of the territory's environment department Jim Grant said the concentrate was not a highly toxic substance, "but it's not to be ingested or inhaled" and was thought to have washed "all over the place".

"It'll present no danger to livestock or kangaroos or birds, but it may have a smothering effect or toxic effect on animals like invertebrates on the bottom of the stream,' he said.

Because it was not soluble, Grant said the concentrate would not have been diluted but the floodwaters would have caused it to spread, lessening its impact.

He stressed that there was no risk to the local town's water supply and he was not aware of any other toxic substances being carried on the train.

The rail owner and operator, US-based Genesee and Wyoming, has defended its decision to operate in the heavy weather caused by ex-tropical cyclone Grant, which was downgraded to a tropical low on Monday.

Environmentalists said the accident, which took place after floodwaters washed away the southern foundation of a rail bridge, showed the dangers of transporting toxic materials by train in the tropics.

"A much bigger risk to Top End rivers would be derailment of trains carrying uranium oxide from the Roxby Uranium Mine in South Australia," said Stuart Blanch, head of the Northern Territory's Environment Centre.

Paul Henderson, chief minister of the territory, said an official investigation would uncover potential failings and he would accept any recommendations made about government regulation to improve safety.

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US eyes first BP criminal charges over Gulf oil spill: WSJ
Washington (AFP) Dec 28, 2011 - US prosecutors are readying criminal charges against British oil giant BP employees over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident that led to the catastrophic Gulf oil spill, The Wall Street Journal reported online late Wednesday.

The charges if brought and prosecuted by the US Justice Department would be the first criminal charges over the disaster.

Citing sources close to the matter, the Journal said the prosecutors are focusing on US-based BP engineers and at least one supervisor who they say may have provided false information to regulators on the risks of deep water drilling in the Gulf.

Felony charges for providing false information in federal documents may be made public early next year, said the Journal.

A conviction on that charge would carry a fine and up to five years in prison, the newspaper said.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has already issued a second list of violations regarding BP's operation of the Macondo well that blew out in April 2010, causing the worst maritime environmental disaster in history.

The US drilling safety agency has said it determined BP had failed to conduct an accurate pressure integrity test in one area of the well.

And in four different sections of the well, BP failed to suspend drilling operations at the Macondo when the safe drilling margin was not maintained, the agency said.

An explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, 2010, killed 11 people, and the well gushed oil into the ocean for 87 days, blackening the southern US shoreline and crippling the local tourism and fishing sectors.

By the time the well was capped, 4.9 million barrels (206 million gallons) of oil had spilled out of the runaway well 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.

In October the US government slapped BP, Transocean -- the Swiss owner and operator of the drilling rig -- and US oil services group Halliburton with citations for violating oil industry regulations in what is expected to lead to massive fines.

BP -- which leased the rig and was ultimately responsible for operations -- has spent more than $40 billion on the disaster and could still be liable for billions in fines, compensation and restoration costs.

In October, it recovered $4.0 billion in costs associated with the spill from US group Anadarko Petroleum Company, which agreed to transfer its 25 percent stake in the well to BP.


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Novel device removes heavy metals from water
Providence RI (SPX) Dec 29, 2011
An unfortunate consequence of many industrial and manufacturing practices, from textile factories to metalworking operations, is the release of heavy metals in waterways. Those metals can remain for decades, even centuries, in low but still dangerous concentrations. Ridding water of trace metals "is really hard to do," said Joseph Calo, professor emeritus of engineering who maintains an ac ... read more

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