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Grounded or submerged bulk carrier: The potential for leaching of coal trace elements to seawater

Lucas, Steven Andrew, Planner, John
Marine pollution bulletin 2012 v.64 no.5 pp. 1012-1017
accidents, coal, ecological value, environmental health, environmental impact, guidelines, human health, leaching, risk, seawater, trace elements, water pollution, water quality, waterways, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland
This study investigates the potential for leaching of coal trace elements to seawater from a grounded bulk carrier. The coal type and ecological scenario was based on the grounding of the “Shen Neng” (April 2010) at Douglas Shoal located within the Great Barrier Reef (Queensland, Australia). The area is of high ecological value and the Queensland Water Quality Guidelines (2009) provided threshold limits to interpret potential impacts. Coal contains many trace elements that are of major and moderate concern to human health and the environment although many of these concerns are only realised when coal is combusted. However, “unburnt” coal contains trace elements that may be leached to natural waterways and few studies have investigated the potential ecological impact of such an occurrence. For example, coal maritime transport has increased by almost 35% over the last five reported years (Jaffrennou et al., 2007) and as a result there is an increased inherent risk of bulk carrier accidents. Upon grounding or becoming submerged, coal within a bulk carrier may become saturated with seawater and potentially leach trace elements to the environment and impact on water quality and ecological resilience. The worst case scenario is the breakup of a bulk carrier and dispersal of cargo to the seafloor.