MAC/20: Mines and Communities

China: Toxic Copper Mining Grips "Mother River"

Published by MAC on 2011-12-20
Source: CRI, Shanghai Daily

China's top copper smelter, Jiangxi,  has been accused of releasing 8,000 tons of toxic wastes into rivers - each year for the past three decades.

This has allegedly led to the poisoning of water supplies and crops which are relied upon by hundreds of thousands of citizens.

The local government has reportedly argued that pollution is "an age-old problem in the area" (so what's to be done?)

However, the provincial environmental authority claims the local government has actually been protecting Jiangxi "in order to safeguard tax revenue" paid by the company.

Editorial note: Jiangxi Copper and Minmetals are also developing the massive Galeno copper-gold project in Cajamarca region, Peru. They acquired the mine from Northern Peru Copper back in 2008.

Toxic Copper Mining Grips "Mother River"

China Radio International (CRI)

8 December 2011

China's top copper smelter has been accused of discharging industrial wastewater into a local river in east China's Jiangxi province, causing serious water contamination that has affected hundreds of thousands of people downstream, Xinhua News Agency reports.

Polluted Le'an River which passes through Dai village
Polluted Le'an River which passes through Dai village in
August 2011  Source: Xinhua

Continuous expansion by mining enterprises has polluted the Le'an River, which feeds into Poyang Lake, China's largest freshwater lake, and irrigates Dexing and Leping cities along the river's lower reaches in Jiangxi. Local residents call the waterway their "mother river."

The Jiangxi Copper Group's Dexing mine has played a key role in the river pollution, producing 13 tons of copper last year, while the company's production as a whole stood at 17.2 tons, according to its most recent annual report.

Years of pollution have rendered about 287 hectares of farmland infertile in Dai village, Mingkou Township, in Leping, according to the Xinhua report. Local residents also have complained that the pollution has harmed their health and caused cancer.

The Leping government in a report to the provincial government in 2010 said tests indicated that the well water in villages along the river was unfit for drinking. It also said local residents suffered higher rates of organ diseases than those in other areas and were more likely to receive poor blood test results.

In April, dozens of children in a village in Dexing were found to have excessively high levels of lead in their blood. Local residents pinpointed a lead production facility under Jiangxi Copper as the source of the problem.

The copper group, however, told a different story. Pan Bing, director of the company's environmental protection department, was quoted in the report as saying Jiangxi Copper had spent 200 million yuan (US$31.4 million) on environmental protection in recent years and that treated wastewater from the Dexing mine had met local discharge requirements.

Jiangxi Copper had operating revenue of 76.4 billion yuan and net profit of 5.98 billion yuan last year, the report said.

Since the 1970s, nonferrous mining enterprises along the upper reaches of the Le'an River have discharged more than 8,000 tons of wastewater annually, containing heavy metal and other toxic pollutants, the Leping city government said in a report.

The contamination caused widespread destruction by turning large swathes of farmland into toxic land, damaging the fishing industry, and causing toxicant-induced diseases in humans. Some villages had been fighting with the enterprises for two decades to provide access to drinking water, the report said.

Tang Jianjun, head of the Leping environment monitoring station, said the city lacked the necessary equipment to test the soil for contamination, where most of the toxicants tended to concentrate. A test on groundwater alone would not be sufficient to determine the scale of heavy metal contamination, Tang added.

Local environmental watchdog agencies often found themselves in a dilemma, as they are financially dependent on the local governments, which in turn count on major enterprises to contribute to local budgets, the report said, citing Deng Xingming, Director of the Jiangxi Province Environmental Protection Department.

Jiangxi Copper, China's largest copper producer by output, had recently started commercial operations at a lead and zinc smelter at the Jinshawan industrial park in Hukou county, Jiujiang city.

The plant has an annual production capacity of 200,000 metric tons of refined lead as well as 200,000 metric tons of refined zinc and 560,000 tons of sulfuric acid and byproducts.

Villagers' anger at low fines

Shanghai Daily

8 December 2011

Villagers in Jiangxi Province claim for decades their health has been damaged and crops killed by toxic waste from copper mines that are undeterred by low fines.

Over the past 30 years, some 60 million tons of waste water has been discharged into the Le'an river, nearby villagers say.

They say 420,000 residents who drink water from the river are currently affected by the pollution and 618 hectares of crops have died.

Jiangxi Copper Company - which has repeatedly been found responsible - each time faces a fine of 180,000 yuan (US$28,404). This is based on a 20-year-old standard, Xinhua news agency reported yesterday.

In Daicun Village, copper waste pollution has killed 187 hectares of crops, say villagers.

Human health has also been greatly affected, they say. No one has passed the army medical in 20 years, while 70 villagers have been diagnosed with cancer, claim villagers.

Locals say fines are too low to make Jiangxi Copper clean up its act. "I can't understand it," one villager said.

Cai Qingfu, deputy director of Leping City environmental protection administration, said since 2001 the company has been fined 180,000 yuan every year.

One Daicun villager compared drinking the river water to taking slow-acting poison.

Jiangxi Copper and local government say pollution is an age-old problem in the area, which has a 1,500-year mining history.

Deng Xingming, director of the provincial environmental authority, claimed local government was protecting the polluter in order to safeguard tax revenue it pays.

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