MAC: Mines and Communities

Indonesian government accuses company of cyanide poisoning

Published by MAC on 2010-09-14
Source: The Jakarta Post (2010-08-19)

The cyanide leaked into the environment from a mine in Lampung, southern Sumatra

Govt claims 184 people poisoned by cyanide

By Adianto P. Simamora

The Jakarta Post

19 August 2010

More than a hundred people in a Lampung village were taken to hospital after they ate fish and drunk water contaminated with hazardous cyanide, according to the Environment Ministry.

Citing its investigation, the ministry alleged the cyanide was leaked into the environment from a mining company that began operation this year.

“Our investigation shows residents ate cyanide-poisoned fish and drank polluted water from Cikantar River in Lampung” in southern Sumatra, Rasio Ridho Sani, assistant deputy for management of hazardous waste at the ministry said Wednesday.

The incident in the Sinar Harapan village took place on Aug. 7 when 184 people were poisoned and taken to hospital.

Cyanide is commonly used in gold mining to extract gold from its ore. The cyanide is known as acutely toxic including to humans.

In Indonesia, the government still allows small-scale mining companies to use cyanide to extract gold from its ore despite some countries having banned it.

The ministry said that the mining company, PT Napal Umbar Picung in Lampung, had temporarily ceased operation last week after the incident. “We are still gathering more data to follow up our investigation.”

The ministry analyzed the quality of water in Cikantar River and the mud in the company’s waste management pond.

PT Napal Umbar Picung operated in 719 hectares of land with an environmental impact analysis document issued by the Lampung province administration in 2010.

The company applies the underground mining system with the use of cyanide to manage the gold. Ministry data showed that the first analysis for the company was issued by the Mining and Energy Ministry in 1999. The company ended operation in 2007. “They secured the analysis document to restart its operation in February,” he said.

Indonesian Environmental Forum executive director Berry Furqon said that the leak of cyanide could be due to poor monitoring from the local administration. “The case shows the analysis document fails to prevent environmental destruction,” he said.

The environmental analysis is a mandatory document for companies, including mining companies, which assesses the environmental impacts of any business activities. The document is required before a business permit is issued.

The 2009 Environmental Law requires the documents be given only if the local people living near the project give their approval.

Article 111 stipulates that officials who issue permits without documents will be subject to a maximum of three years in jail and/or a Rp 3 billion (US$330,000) fine. Since the autonomy era, authority to issue the document has been held by local administrations despite many of the provinces and regencies having no adequate human resources to assess the document.

The Environment Ministry has reported several times that many mining companies, particularly small-scale firms operating across the country, do not have these papers. Berry said the government should tighten requirements to issue the document. “We find many companies that destruct the environment have this document.”

The ministry deputy for spatial planning, Hermien Rosita, said the office would ask the Lampung administration, which issued the document, to verify it again.

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