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A grazier in north-west Queensland says sulphuric acid from a train derailment at Julia Creek has polluted one of his dams.
The train was carrying more than 800,000 litres of sulphuric acid when the 26-carriage train derailed on Sunday, December 27. About 31,500 litres of acid were spilled.
Nigel Simmons runs Garoma Station at Julia Creek and one of his dams is only 200 metres from the site.
He said environmental staff had found the pH of the dam to be 2.08 — neutral pH is 7 — which is equivalent to somewhere between battery acid and lemon juice.
"But talking to the environmentalist guys, the reading they found the other day that was quite a low pH, was a bit of a surprise to them.
"They suggested it was ... because over the last few days the dam has evaporated and the water's soaked into the ground and that would've increased the pH a lot. As the water soaks away the acid stays in there and it becomes less water and more acid."
Mr Simmons said the dam was used to water livestock and has been dry for the past couple of years.
He has been told not to let any livestock drink from the dam.
"I assume they should be able to fix it with lime or something else to bring it back to a good pH," Mr Simmons said.
"That dam has been dry for a couple of years so it'll be a huge disappointment if, when it's finally full, we can't use it."
QR committed to reducing environmental impactsQueensland Rail regional general manager north Queensland, Michael Mitchell, said in a statement he had met with landholders on Wednesday and QR was keeping the local community informed about recovery works and environmental management.
"We are committed to ensuring there is no environmental damage, and have appointed Golders to provide expert advice to Queensland Rail regarding environmental impacts and to undertake soil and water testing," he said.
"Golders will work closely with all parties, including the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, to assess and help inform treatment of any product leakage, and to help ensure the situation is managed closely.
"Golders is currently undertaking an initial assessment of the site and following the completion of this, Queensland Rail and a representative from Golders will meet again with landholders to provide them with an update and to discuss any specific concerns they have.
"We expect this meeting to take place in the coming days."
Incitec Pivot, the company that had purchased the sulphuric acid for use at its fertiliser manufacturing plant, has been contacted for comment.
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Concerns for livestock in the long termIn a good season Mr Simmons runs about 1,000 head of cattle on the 20,000 acre property, but due to the drought he currently has about 100 head.
While he said he felt confident the dam should be fixable, he was concerned about what long-term effects the spill might have on the cattle.
"We don't really understand what sulphuric acid is or what it does to the country, and the main thing is we really don't want it to be something that could leave heavy metals or traces in cattle," Mr Simmons said.
"That's a big concern if ... our cattle get pulled up when we sell them due to something that's been spilled on our land [making] our cattle unsaleable. It's debilitating for us.
"Other than that we don't really want to have water issues on our place, but I'm pretty confident they'll be able to work through it and come up with a solution.
"At the moment the most important thing is they clean up the remaining acid that's in the train."
Contaminated water would affect livestock, professor saysUniversity of Queensland professor of veterinary science Dr Jon Hill said livestock would definitely be affected by drinking contaminated water.
"The guidelines for drinking water are to retain that pH no lower than 6, ideally 6.5 to 8.5, and so clearly 2.08 is much lower and that would not be good at all for the cattle to drink any amount of that," he said.
"A cow is ingesting ... 20 litres or more per day, and that amount at pH of 2.08 would be quite harmful to the cattle."
Dr Hill said drinking that amount of contaminated water would turn cows' stomach contents acidic.
But he said he did not think cattle would drink the water unless they had no other option.
"I would imagine they would drink a little and then back away and seek some other water sources," Dr Hill said.
"I do not think it would taste very good and so they would avoid that water and reduce their intake if they possibly could."
Dr Hill said animals who had drunk contaminated water would get a sore belly and go off their feed.
He said affected cattle would look quite obviously ill.
Dr Hill advised concerned graziers to look out for cattle who were standing away from other animals, holding their head down, not eating, drooling, kicking at their stomach and had diarrhoea.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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