MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Newmont endangers people, ecosystem

Published by MAC on 2003-06-19

Newmont endangers people, ecosystem

By Moch. N. Kurniawan, Jakarta Post

June 19, 2003

A study released by the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) on Wednesday contends that tailings from gold mining firm Newmont Minahasa Raya (NMR) contain four times the government-allowed level of cyanide, endangering the health of residents and endangering the environment.

The study alleged that traces of cyanide could be found in marine animals living in Buyat Bay, Buyat River and Ratatotok Bay in Minahasa regency, North Sulawesi, where the NMR tailings were disposed. "The research shows that NMR tailings have disturbed the marine ecosystem in both Buyat and Ratatotok bay. The disposal of the NMR tailings has been uncontrolled and widespread," said Walhi campaigner Raja Siregar, who conducted the study with Joko Purwanto, a senior lecturer at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture. The field study took place in June 2001 and January 2002, and Joko analyzed the findings of the study up to early this year.

Raja said high levels of cyanide and other chemicals like mercury, cadmium and arsenic in Buyat Bay had reduced the catch of local fishermen. "The locals have to sail a kilometer out from the coast ... to catch fish," he said. Locals also have begun to suffer health problems, mostly brain damage and tremors, he alleged. Raja said the study proved that NMR had violated its environmental impact assessment, which stipulated that cyanide should not be found in the bodies of marine animals in the area.

The study also claims NMR's tailings pipeline is prone to leakage, stating that four leaks occurred in the last seven years. Raja accused NMR of being irresponsible and endangering both local residents and the environment. "NMR must pay compensation for the health, social and environmental damage it has caused to locals. But so far, the locals have not seen it (compensation)," he said.

NMR external relations manager David Sompie denied the findings of the Walhi study. He said the company carried out a detoxification process on its tailings to eliminate the cyanide used in the gold mining process. He said previous studies by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, the Agency for the Study and Application of Technology and the Environmental Impact Control Agency found no excess cyanide in NMR's tailings. He said there was no reason to trust the findings of the Walhi study. "We have more faith in the previous studies. We have been doing very good so far, otherwise our license would have already been revoked by the government," Sompie said.

The company began its mining operation in Ratatotok village, Belang district, Minahasa regency, North Sulawesi, in 1996, with a concession of 527,448 hectares. The company will close its operation later this year, but it is required to monitor the site for the next three years. As of 2002, NMR has released over four million tons of tailings into Buyat Bay and the surrounding coast.

Ironically, NMR's sister company, Newmont Nusa Tenggara, has been given a license by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources to carry out mining activities in a protected forest in Lombok island, West Nusa Tenggara province. The deputy assistant for mining, energy, oil and gas at the Office of the State Minister for the Environment, Yanuardi Rasudin, said he would contact NMR to clarify Walhi's claims. "We will also ask NMR to explain its plans for closing the mine," he said. If there are any violations of its contract, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources can take action against the company.


Government to send team to check cyanide study on Newmont

By Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post

June 21, 2003

The government will send a team to take tailing samples from gold mining firm Newmont Minahasa Raya (NMR) in Minahasa, North Sulawesi, following a report that cyanide levels in the tailings exceeded the government limit. "We will conduct an independent test next month without any funds from NMR," Imam Hendargo, deputy assistant in charge of environmental impact management at the Office of the State Minister for the Environment, said on Friday.

The team will charter a ship from the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology to conduct the tests on the Newmont tailings. The team will also coordinate with the Regional Environmental Impact Management Agency for the tests. "We have asked permission from NMR to conduct the test and the company has welcomed it," Imam said.

Newmont and the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) agreed on Wednesday to verify the results of a study by the environmental group which stated that cyanide levels in the company's tailings were above government-set levels, causing health and environmental problems. Walhi's study claimed that cyanide levels in the Newmont tailings were four times higher than the government allowed level. Newmont insists its free cyanide is at 0.02 milligrams per liter and weak acid dissociable cyanide at between 0.2 and 0.48 milligrams per liter, both below the government-allowed level of 0.5. The company uses cyanide to extract gold from crushed ore.

Under Law No. 23/1997 on environmental management, a firm that intentionally pollutes the environment can be given various penalties, ranging from a seizure of profits to closure of the company. The government suspended the operation of PT Indorayon Inti Utama in Porsea, North Sumatra, in 1998 due to allegations of environmental damage caused by the company. The company, under the new name of PT Toba Pulp Lestari, resumed operation in March 2002.

Also, Imam said the government and Padjadjaran University would deploy a joint team to examine the tailings of gold and copper mining firm Freeport Indonesia in Papua. "We hope to conduct such tests every year to get independent reports on the tailings of big mining companies," he said. Yanuardi Rasudin, deputy assistant in charge of mining, energy, oil and gas at the state minister's office, said the government wanted to check that the total suspended solid (TSS) in Freeport's tailings did not exceed the minimum allowed level of 400 milligrams per liter. "We are worried that the TSS in Freeport's tailings, which could reach the sea, has surpassed our limit," he said. If it does exceed government-set levels, Freeport would be required to take action to remedy the problem. "Otherwise, the tailings could kill marine flora and fauna," Yanuardi said.

Karliansyah, the deputy assistant in charge of environmental impact assessments, said experts who had evaluated Freeport's Special Environment Assessment (ERA) concluded that the study needed improvement. He said that the assessment must explain in detail the health impact of Freeport's tailings by recording the health of a number of locals over the course of their lives. In its latest ERA, Freeport only took random health samples from the local population, reducing the validity of the assessment. The company also has to carry out more detailed tests on the impact of its tailings on marine flora and fauna, he said.


Newmont, Walhi agree to verify cyanide study

By Moch. N. Kurniawan, Jakarta Post

June 20, 2003

Gold mining firm Newmont Minahasa Raya (NMR) and the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) agreed on Thursday to verify the latter's study, which revealed that the cyanide in the mining company's tailings exceeded the safe level set by the government. NMR external relations manager Christian E. David Sompie said that verification by an independent party was important to prove whether Walhi's study was reliable. "It's good development if the study can be verified. We believe that if there is a good intention, there will be a solution," he said, adding that the verification should have been conducted by the now defunct Environmental Impact Management Agency (Bapedal).

Sompie insisted that the volume of cyanide in NMR tailings was still below the level set by the government. He said that as of 2002, free cyanide measured at 0.02 milligrams per liter, while weak acid dissociable cyanide was between 0.2 and 0.48, both below the government limit of 0.5. Cyanide is used to extract gold from crushed ore. Aside from cyanide, mercury can also be used in this process. NMR has operated its gold mine in the North Sulawesi village of Ratatotok in Belang subdistrict, Minahasa regency, since 1996. The mine plans to close its operation later this year, but must monitor its mining closure for the next three years.

Separately, Walhi executive director Longgena Ginting said Walhi was also prepared to verify its study with an independent team. "Verification of our findings from an independent team is what we need. We don't want to see people suffer from health problems and environmental damage after NMR leaves the mine," he said. Walhi announced on Wednesday its study on NMR tailings, reporting that the tailings contained four times the government-allowed level of cyanide, endangering the health of local residents and the surrounding environment.

The study, which was made in June 2001 and in January 2002, also stated that the high levels of cyanide and other chemicals -- mercury, cadmium and arsenic -- in Buyat Bay had reduced the catch of local fishermen. Locals had also begun to suffer health problems, mostly brain damage and spasms, the study said. The study also claimed that NMR's tailings pipeline was prone to leakage, saying that four leaks had occurred in the last seven years.

Commenting on Walhi's study, Sompie raised several questions including on the location where the cyanide was found, the distribution of health problems and the credibility of the laboratory that analyzed Walhi's study. For example, he said, local people could suffer health problems, but it should be further traced to see whether or not the problem was widespread due to NMR's tailings. "I have lived there for about nine years. So far, I found one or two local families who have claimed that they have contracted diseases from the tailings. But most of them didn't claim this," he said.

 

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