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When the dust settles -

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ELEANOR HALL: One of the world's biggest miners has been forced to stop work on a dam in far North
Queensland because it has been covering nearby residents in thick red dust for three months.

Locals say their children were constantly sick and they're worried about the long-term health
effects from the exposure to the dust.

And while the company, Rio Tinto Alcan admits it failed to foresee the impact of its work, the
State Government says it didn't have the necessary approvals in the first place.

Liam Fox has our report.

LIAM FOX: Angie Kelly had only recently moved to the mining town of Weipa on Cape York Peninsula
back in June when her problems began.

ANGIE KELLY: Dirt just started coming into the house and there was no option, you simply couldn't
open a window, all of our outdoor equipment like the children's swing set and their trampoline and
barbeques and where you sit, and the pathways, everything was just started to get coated in this
thick red dirt, and that was on a daily basis.

LIAM FOX: Rio Tinto Alcan, a subsidiary of mining giant Rio Tinto, was raising the walls of an old
tailings dam as part of its plans to expand the bauxite mine.

The only problem was that since the dam was last used, the residential suburb of Nanum had sprung
up across the road.

And no matter how regularly the residents cleaned their houses they were soon caked in red dirt
again.

WOMAN: My children were continually sick, constant eye problems, constant runny noses, constant
coughs, our clothes are absolutely destroyed and quite literally we were getting into beds that
were filthy and clothes that were filthy and yeh, it was just absolutely miserable.

LIAM FOX: Then last month, after fiery community meetings, letters to the editor of the local
paper, and complaints to the Environmental Protection Agency, the work stopped.

The mine's general manager JoAnne Scarini admits they failed to foresee the risks.

JOANNE SCARINI: A significant amount of planning goes into this including a range of technical
studies, but also careful consideration of the possible environmental and community impact,
unfortunately we've experienced levels of dust that were unexpected, and so the risk assessments
that we conducted didn't identify that we would have this issue, once we had the issue we stopped
the project.

Clearly this project has been a significant learning for our organisation and we will need to take
what we have learnt here into account in the future.

LIAM FOX: The mine is now subsidising the electricity bills of residents who had no choice but to
use air conditioners and clothes dryers.

A range of other measures are also being put in place like spraying a chemical dust-suppressant,
planting trees for wind breaks and dust monitoring.

But the Environmental Protection Agency will have to give its tick before work can resume because
it says the mine didn't have its approval to begin with.

The Sustainability Minister Andrew McNamara says it's probably the result of confusion because the
mine used to be exempt from such requirements until the laws were changed earlier this year.

ANDREW MCNAMARA: Rio has to in fact apply for the necessary approvals to raise the dam wall and
they have to apply to the EPA, and obviously unless we're satisfied that that can be done, in an
environmentally sensitive way and a way that works within national standards and the standards that
apply to every other mine, the standards that apply for every other large earthworks, then they
won't get that approval.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Queensland's Sustainability Minister Andrew McNamara ending that report from
Liam Fox.