Campaigners argue that a company's mining license should not be renewed because the water in a harbour turned orange before it was set to open the first coal mine in the UK in decades.
West Cumbria Mining's deep mine plans, which were approved in December, are opposed by Radiation Free Lakeland.
It worries that the discolored water that Harbour Commissioners observed entering Whitehaven Harbour from a culvert in Queens Dock may have come from abandoned mines.
The Coal Authority and Environment Agency are both conducting ongoing inquiries.
Government approval was given to the company, which will open the first new deep coal mine in the UK in many years and supply coking coal for the production of steel.
Geologists and engineers have been employed by West Cumbria Mining Ltd. for the past five years to conduct exploration and analysis work.
For the recovery of coal samples, this includes both onshore and offshore borehole drilling.
The Coal Authority granted it an underground mining conditional variation license, and the most recent term of that license covered the months of June through October. The Coal Authority has not yet granted it any licenses.
West Cumbria Mining's exploratory drilling, according to Marianne Birkby of Radiation Free Lakeland, may have had an effect on the "fragile honeycomb of mines and opened the floodgates of contaminated mine water that was previously static.".
Several months ago, the harbor's water first started to turn murky.
"This pollution in the harbor looks like mine water. Given the inability to identify and stop the source of the pollution, it would be prudent to put a stop to any new mining in this area immediately," Ms. Birkby continued.
Campaigners have written a letter to the Coal Authority pleading with it not to renew West Cumbria Mining's conditional license, along with Westmorland and Lonsdale Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron.
A request for comment on the claims was made to West Cumbria Mining Ltd., but they declined.
The BBC has been informed that the problems have existed for a while, but Whitehaven Harbour Commissioners Chief Executive John Baker claimed that although coworkers had "mixed memories" regarding whether the water had previously turned color, "no one can remember it to this extent and not for a number of years.".
It's not a recurring theme, he continued, but there have been instances similar to this in the UK. Unfortunately for us, as a leisure harbor, it is highly noticeable from a tourism perspective. " .
A spokesperson for the Coal Authority stated, "We are assisting the Environment Agency as they look into the orange or discolored water at Whitehaven Harbour and will use our skills and expertise to help them and other regional partners as needed.
The initial chemistry of the water indicates that it is not from the nearby historic coal mines, according to the report.
There are additional potential sources of iron-rich (orange, ochreas-colored) water in the region. As the Environment Agency determines the source, we will continue to collaborate with them. ".
Despite results from investigations conducted in December showing "increased metals in the water," there was no evidence of sewage pollution.
The results were verified by a representative of the Environment Agency, who added that the organization was "actively investigating this further to determine the potential source.".
"It continues to be frustrating from our perspective, we can see the culvert and it's not constantly leaking, and while it was clear at Christmas, it now seems worse," said Mr. Baker.
"Even though it's challenging to locate the source of the culvert because it extends far—all the way to the top of Whitehaven—our business is affected, so we're eager to find a solution. ".
According to Mr. Baker, looking out at rust-colored water was "not a pleasant environment," and some boat owners had expressed their concerns to the harbour commissioners. The harbor has 400 berths, with about 85% of them occupied.
The possibility of polluted water being washed out to sea, he added, was another worry when the harbour gates were open.