Glencore may be forced to shut down giant zinc mine in Australia

Glencore may be forced to shut down giant zinc mine in Australia

The McArthur River mine is one of the world's largest producers of lead, zinc and silver. (Image courtesy of Glencore)

Glencore (LON:GLEN) may soon be forced to shut down its McArthur River zinc mine in Australia unless it improves its environmental record and increases a financial bond covering rehabilitation of the site, authorities said this week.

The warning came after Australia’s Northern Territory officials asked the company to release figures about lead contamination around the site, under the Freedom of Information Act.

But Glencore has struck back, claiming the data reported in the documents was out of date.

"Some of that information in fact is six or 12 months out of date and no longer reflects the current operating status of McArthur River," Glencore Zinc chief operating officer Greg Ashe said at a mining conference this week, Australian Broadcast Corporation reports.

The executive added that Glencore has made improvements since the data reported in the documents was collected.

Smoke, traces of lead in fish

For months, residents near the zinc mine — one of the world's biggest — have complained about the potentially toxic smoke plumes and acidic run off coming from one of the mine’s waste rock dump. In October last year,  an environmental assessment found nine out of 10 fish in a nearby creek had elevated and unsafe lead levels.

The NT Department of Primary Industries also found that cattle that wandered onto the site tested positive for lead above the safe limit of human consumption. As a result, hundreds were quarantined or destroyed, as acknowledged by the company in a statement this week.

The company has until Oct.1 to provide authorities with fresh data.

Only two years ago, Glencore was granted approval to increase the rate of mining from 2.5 million tonnes of ore annually to 5 million tonnes and the yearly yield of zinc and lead bulk concentrate from 360,000 dry metric tonnes to 800,000 dry metric tonnes.

It also lifted the mine's scheduled closure date by nine years to 2036.

McArthur River mine is one of the world's largest producers of lead, zinc and silver.