MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Pressure builds on Goldcorp, just before its AGM

Published by MAC on 2011-05-17
Source:, Rights Action

US Congress persons call for halt to Marlin mine

This week, two Goldcorp shareholders will challenge other investors to  back their resolution, calling for a halt to the Canadian company's Marlin mine operations in Guatemala.

Fifteen US congressional representatives have also expressed "serious concerns" about the mine, urging Goldcorp to urgently address "the ongoing human rights, health, and environmental concerns of the indigenous communities".

Previous MAC article:- London Calling asks Sweden: Why stop hounding Vedanta now?

Goldcorp's Marlin mine in Guatemala attracts criticism ahead of Vancouver meeting

By Carlito Pablo

12 May 2011

Melanie Schambach vividly remembers her body's reaction when she came near a mine-tailings pond in the western highlands of Guatemala.

The Canadian visual artist was travelling in the country of her mother's birth early this year to document the impact of the operations of Goldcorp, a Vancouver-based mining company that will hold its annual shareholders' meeting at the Pan Pacific Hotel on Wednesday (May 18).

There were "mountains of white foam" on the edges of the "totally toxic" pond whose water was a bright blue hue, the Vancouver resident recalled in an interview at theGeorgia Straight offices.

"We were standing at the top of a hill, and I feel like my eyes are totally burning," Schambach said. "And the hairs of my nose are, like, piercing my skin."

Operated by its wholly owned subsidiary, Montana Explorada de Guatemala S.A., Goldcorp's Marlin mine in the municipalities of Sipacapa and San Miguel Ixtahuacán has been the focus of controversy since it was established in 2004.

In May 2010, the Washington, D.C.-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights requested the Guatemalan government suspend operations at the open-pit and underground gold and silver mine because of its adverse environmental effects.

An autonomous organ of the Organization of American States, whose members include Canada and the U.S., the IACHR was responding to calls by 18 Mayan indigenous communities whose water sources have either dried up or become contaminated.

On July 7 of last year, according to Amnesty International, a female activist campaigning against the mine was shot and seriously wounded by unknown assailants inside her home in San Miguel Ixtahuacán.

The human-rights watchdog also reported that in the previous month of June, a female campaigner received anonymous threats after she spoke with a United Nations official who came to investigate the local situation.

On February 28 of this year, while Schambach was in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, several local opponents of the mine who held a protest calling for the implementation of the IACHR recommendation were beaten up by people supporting the mine.

The Marlin mine has also caught the attention of members of the U.S. Congress. In a letter dated March 20 to Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom, 15 American congressional representatives expressed "serious concerns" about the mine.

"We urge you to immediately suspend operations at the Marlin mine and address the ongoing human rights, health, and environmental concerns of the indigenous communities," the legislators wrote.

Goldcorp shareholders will have a chance to have their say about the controversial Marlin mine on May 18. Two shareholders, Kathryn Anderson and Brenda Cooper, both from Nova Scotia, have filed a proposed resolution to stop operations.

A management information circular issued by the Goldcorp board argues that such a move is "not in the best interests" of the company.

Jeff Wilhoit, vice-president for investor relations, called the Straight from Spain, where he was attending a mining conference. Wilhoit is confident that the proposal by the two Nova Scotia shareholders will not succeed. "Most of our shareholders who understand our story and our track record of safe, responsible operations in Marlin understand as we do that the allegations upon which the proposal is built are without merit," he said.

Goldcorp shareholders include the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, a federal Crown corporation.

Steve Stewart is a member of the Vancouver-based Café Justicia, a fair-trade coffee business and Latin America solidarity group. He is urging shareholders of Goldcorp and other Canadian mining companies to take a close look at how foreign operations are being conducted by these firms.

"If all they care about is returns, there could be large settlements that could cost them," Stewart told the Straight in an interview.

On May 4 of this year, Goldcorp reported cash flows of US$586 million for the first quarter of 2011, based on gold production of 637,600 ounces at US$188 per ounce. Dividends paid amounted to US$75 million during this period. First-quarter gold production at the Marlin mine was 77,800 ounces.

A protest will be held outside the Goldcorp shareholders' meeting. It will be part of a week of activities organized by the Mining Justice Alliance to highlight Canadian mining issues.

The Real Cost of Gold in Honduras

Goldcorp & Honduran Regime Cover-Up Blood & Urine Testing & Poisoning at "San Martin" Mine

By Karen Spring and Grahame Russell

Rights Action

27 April 2011

Going back to at least 2007, Goldcorp Inc. and the government of Honduras have known about and covered up information about blood poisoning and health problems caused by Goldcorp's open-pit, cyanide leaching "San Martin" mine in the Siria Valley, department of Francisco Morazan, central Honduras. This mine is operated by Goldcorp's subsidiary Entremares.

(14 year old Abel shows rashes that have recurred for years
14 year old Abel shows rashes that have recurred
for years. Abel's blood, based on the just-released
2007 government studies, contains over twice the
levels of blood-lead content for children
recommended as safe by the Centre for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC).
Photo: Karen Spring, Rights Action, April 2011

Even though Goldcorp suspended its mining operation there in 2008, villagers in numerous towns near the mine site suffer recurring health harms, even today. Local residents - as well as cows -- have died of health problems likely caused by the mine.

Had Goldcorp and the government of Honduras released the results of their 2007 blood and urine samples, and accepted responsibility to care for the health harms caused by the mine, villagers in the Siria Valley might have received appropriate medical attention. Instead, the results were covered up until now. Still, neither Goldcorp nor the government have accepted responsibility.

For blood-lead levels lower than what was found in Abel's 2007 test results, the CDC recommends "required and frequent clinical evaluation, investigation and environmental recuperation". At these blood-lead levels, the CDC also recommends the "immediate removal [of the people infected] from the environment [causing the lead exposure]."

Blood Studies Done in 2005-06

Soon after Goldcorp began operating the San Martin mine in 2000 (then owned by Glamis Gold, bought out by Goldcorp in 2006), villagers in the Siria Valley began complaining about the effects of the mine on their health and water sources. Their truthful complaints were met with denials and/or silence from the government of Honduras and Goldcorp.

After years of community organization, protests and advocacy concerning the health and environmental harms, independent health experts first carried out blood and water tests in the mine affected communities of Siria Valley in 2005-06. These initial studies - that indeed found dangerously high levels of lead and arsenic (naturally occurring heavy metals released into the air and water in dangerous levels via the gold mining process) in people's blood - were discounted by Goldcorp and the Honduran authorities, claiming that they were not official studies.

Government Blood & Urine Studies in 2007

As the increasingly obvious evidence of health and environmental harms mounted (hair loss, skin rashes, miscarriages in women and cows, dying cows, etc) and as pressure mounted from the Siria Valley Environmental Defense Committee (comprised of people from the mine-affected communities) and other human rights and non-government groups, the government of Honduras carried out its own study in August 2007, taking blood and urine samples from a random and representative sampling of 62 children and adults in communities near Goldcorp's "San Martin" mine. ‘Experts' contracted by Goldcorp observed and were present during much of the blood and urine sampling process.

Cover-Up Begins

Upon completion, the government of Honduras did not release the results. Rather, the Ministry of Environment claimed a need to send the samples to ‘experts' in Colombia, for further verification. Again, ‘experts' contracted by Goldcorp traveled to Colombia to ‘accompany' the blood and urine samples verification process.

Four Years of Silence

From that moment, until now, a silence has surrounded the results of those studies, despite constant demands from the mine-affected communities of the Siria Valley to get the results, despite continually recurring health problems documented by the Siria Valley Committee, Dr. Juan Almendares, Rights Action, CAFOD (Catholic Overseas Development Agency, UK), Development and Peace, and other investigators and groups.

On April 12, 2011, almost 4 years after the samples were taken, the 62 individuals (whose blood and urine were tested) began to receive the results of the levels of arsenic, mercury and lead detected in the blood tests in 2007. Notably, the results of studying the urine samples have still not been released.

Initial Findings

What is known, in summary, is that of the 62 people sampled in 2007, 46 of them (27 children and 19 adults) have dangerously high levels of heavy metals poisoning in their blood that would have required immediate and sustained medical treatment back in 2007, let alone today.

Twenty-four of the children studied contain dangerously elevated lead levels in blood (10 ug/dl = 10 micrograms of lead/decilitre of blood), according to World Health Organization and CDC standards.

For a representative and random sampling of villagers, near Goldcorp's mine, these are extremely high percentages of villagers with indications of blood poisoning. The implications for the local population at large would have been alarming in 2007, had they been advised. They are just as alarming now, as villagers living near the mine site have continued to be exposed to the water and environmental contamination that has never been acknowledged by Goldcorp and the government of Honduras, let alone remedied.

Re-confirming the Obvious

The results confirm what the Siria Valley Committee and families in the affected communities, other Honduran and international organizations, independent scientists and doctors. See links, below, to articles.

Goldcorp Participates in Blood & Urine Sampling Process

What also appears clear is that Goldcorp knew of and therefore - we believe - helped cover up the blood tests results. Goldcorp contracted a former Honduran Medical Examiner, Denis Castro Bobadilla, to observe the collection of the blood and urine samples in Siria Valley in 2007, along with a former Special Attorney of the Environment, Mario Chinchilla, also contracted by Goldcorp.

While Chinchilla previously worked as a prosecuting attorney with the Environment Ministry, criminal charges were laid against Goldcorp for various environmental crimes including stealing water, aggravated damages, disobedience of authority and destruction of the forest.

These are the same individuals who, paid by Goldcorp, also traveled to Colombia to ‘accompany' the blood and urine testing process.

Deficient 'Closure' Plan

In 2008, Goldcorp halted operations at the San Martin mine, though many suspect that Goldcorp hopes to re-open and expand it, given that since the June 2009 military coup, the military-backed regime of Honduras is promoting unfettered "international investment". In its draft closure plan, Goldcorp makes no mention of, or provision for follow-up comprehensive medical and health support for the affected communities.

Campaign to Silence Sick Individuals

In a further attempt to cover-up this information and silence Siria Valley villagers with health harms, the Honduran government - with the reported knowledge of Goldcorp - now is going door-to-door to the homes of the 62 individuals, asking them to sign what appear to be confidentiality and waiver papers, and offering to take them to the public hospital in Tegucigalpa to treat them, based on the test results and that heavy metals found in their blood almost four years ago.

To the health harmed people of Siria Valley, this is an obvious effort to undermine the on-going work of the Siria Valley Committee, CEPRODEC and Dr. Juan Almendares; it is an attempt to silence sick individuals and stop any possible legal repercussions in the future.

What is Needed

More importantly, the people of the Siria Valley do not need medical treatment for just those 62 people whose blood and urine were sampled in 2007, though they do need that.

Needed is an acknowledgement by the government of Honduras and by Goldcorp that there are past and on-going health and environmental harms caused by Goldcorp's mining operation, and that Goldcorp and the government are responsible to do everything necessary to provide comprehensive treatment and compensation to all affected people and communities, and to repair the underlying environmental contaminations and harms.

Needed are all the health files - including complete results of the blood and urine tests - to be returned to the 62 individuals.

Needed is a comprehensive medical response to the widespread contaminants and health harms throughout the Siria Valley.

Needed is a comprehensive environmental assessment of the entire region, to test for on-going air, earth and water contaminations; followed by a comprehensive environmental rehabilitation program to make the region again safe for living.

* * * * * * * * * *

What to do

Send letters to Goldcorp, with copies to your media, to your own politician, to the Canada Pension Plan, and to your own pension fund (if it is invested in Goldcorp):

Why did Goldcorp not release this information 4 years ago?

Why is Goldcorp not releasing this information now?

Will Goldcorp accept responsibility for the health and environmental harms and provide full compensation and reparations as part of a necessary health attention program in the Siria Valley?

Will Goldcorp include complete medical/health and environmental considerations & reparations measures in the closure plan?


666 Burrard Street, Suite 3400, Vancouver, BC, V6C 2X8
Main: (604) 696-3000, Direct: 604-696-3076

3201-130 Adelaide St. W., Toronto, ON, M5H-3P5
T: (416) 865-0326

Chuck Jeannes, President & CEO,
Kim Keras, executive assistant,
Tim Miller, VP Operations in Central America,
Dina Aloi, VP Corporate Social Responsibility,, T: (416) 865-0326
David Deisley, Legal Counsel,
Jeff Wilhoit, Investor Relations,

BOARD OF DIRECTORS: T: (866) 696-3055, local (604) 696-3055,
Jim Schenck,
Lisa Wade,

* * *


August 2006 report by Sandra Cuffe, Rights Action, "Independent Study Reveals Dangerous Levels of Heavy Metal Contamination in Water and Blood Samples in the Communities Affected by Glamis Gold's Mining Activities in the Siria Valley":

February 2007 IPS article, "Dangerous levels of lead and arsenic have been found in the blood of Honduran villagers living downstream from Goldcorp mine":

March 2007 article by Dawn Paley, "Gold, Skin and Bones: Goldcorp's Adventure in Honduras":

January 2008 article in, "Lead, Mercury, Arsenic Found in Siria Valley Population" by Goldcorp mine:

April 2009 photo-essay by Siria Valley Committee & Rights Action, "Gold mining and health harms in Honduras":

December 2009 report by CAFOD & Development and Peace, "Evidence of Severe Water Contamination at Goldcorp Mine":

April 2010 photo-essay by Siria Valley Committee & Rights Action, "On-going health harms in Honduras, near Goldcorp's mine":

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