Metals: Port of Tyne

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 21st April 2022.

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Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what studies have been carried out on the environmental impact of (a) zinc and (b) lead contaminants between Walker Quay and the upper reaches of the River Tyne.

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Metals from abandoned mines impact water quality and aquatic wildlife in more than 150 kilometres of the South Tyne catchment, and these metals ultimately accumulate in the Tyne estuary sediments.

The Environment Agency (EA) has investigated the environmental impacts of zinc and lead from historic mine activity in the upper reaches of the River Tyne, particularly in the Rivers Nent and West Allen, which are two of the most metal-polluted rivers in England.

EA surveys in 2017 and 2018 showed populations of brown trout in the River Nent were about half that of a similar, unpolluted, control catchment. EA studies of river-flies (invertebrates) in the Nent and West Allen catchments also found decreased abundance and variety. The concentrations of zinc in the River Nent are high enough to be acutely toxic to fish but the brown trout appear to have adapted after two centuries of exposure.

The EA is working in partnership with the Coal Authority and Defra to implement measures to control inputs of metals in the Tyne headwaters as part of the Water and Abandoned Metal Mines Programme. In 2022/23, construction of the Nent Haggs mine water treatment scheme will be completed; once fully operational in 2023, this should capture up to 3 tonnes of zinc and cadmium each year and improve water quality in 60km of rivers. Other measures are being developed to stop metals polluting the River South Tyne and decrease the amount of metals that accumulate in Tyne estuary sediments.

We are currently consulting on a target to reduce the length of rivers pollution by metals from Abandoned Metal Mines by 50% by 2037 in the Environment Act Targets consultation. This will include zinc and lead pollution.

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