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Committee to investigate scale of metal mine pollution in Wales

24 April 2024

Today the Welsh Affairs Committee announces a one-off evidence session into pollution from abandoned metal mines in Wales.

On Wednesday 8th May, MPs will consider the impact of metal mine pollution, current plans for remediation, whether existing regulations are adequate, and the level and transparency of information available to the public.

Wales has a long history of mining for metals such as lead, zinc and gold, particularly in the counties of Flintshire and Denbighshire in North Wales, and Ceredigion, on the West Coast.  The industry reached its peak in the late 19th century, before ceasing altogether by the 1920s.

These mines, now largely abandoned, are a major contributor of metals like cadmium, lead, zinc and copper found in nearby rivers, streams and lakes. These metals, when found in elevated concentrations, can damage local fish stocks and plant biodiversity.

However, they could also present a potential risk to public health. According to reports in the Financial Times, a 2022 project funded by Natural Resources Wales uncovered harmful levels of lead in eggs on two farms downstream of abandoned lead mines in West Wales.

The Committee has held three evidence sessions on water quality in Wales since February 2023. These sessions, while primarily focused on sewage overflows, saw witnesses raise concerns around pollution from abandoned metal mines.  

Witnesses will include academic experts on river pollution from metal mining, as well as representatives of regulators Natural Resources Wales and the Coal Authority, who are jointly responsible for remediating former industrial sites in Wales.

Chair's comment

Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, Stephen Crabb, said:

“So far, we have very little information about the risks of pollution from abandoned metal mines in Wales. What little information we do have has raised concern from some, but it is vital we build a detailed and robust picture of the potential problem.

“In our evidence session, the Committee will hear from academic experts and regulators to uncover the true extent of this issue, what is already being done to fix it, and what further action needs to take place."

Further information

Image: House of Commons