MAC: Mines and Communities

Rio Tinto 2016 AGM: "Goodnight children sleep well"

Published by MAC on 2016-04-25
Source: Statement, New Era, Scroll.in, Northern Sentinal (2016-04-14)

The following is a report on the 2016 Rio Tinto Annual General Meeting, which took place on 14 April, by Richard Solly of London Mining Network.

It is followed by varied press reports covering industrial relations in Namibia and Iceland, water disputes in Mongolia and diamond mining in India (many of which were covered at the AGM).

Goodnight children – sleep well: the 2016 Rio Tinto AGM

By Richard Solly, Co-ordinator, London Mining Network (LMN)

http://londonminingnetwork.org/2016/04/goodnight-children-sleep-well-the-2016-rio-tinto-agm/

14 April 2016

If you are a parent and your children find it difficult to go off to sleep at night, you may consider asking Rio Tinto CE, Sam Walsh to read them a bedtime story. A few paragraphs would surely suffice to send them into a deep sleep. Never mind that he might be reading them some traditional fairy story with a horrendously amoral story line full of self-interest and destruction – there is something soporific in the quality of his delivery. (It was much the same at last year’s AGM.)

And there is a close parallel between the subject matter of traditional fairy tales and the things he told us about at Rio Tinto’s London AGM today: accounts of operations full of environmental destruction and potential destruction, full of social dislocation and community anger. But he told us in such a soothing manner!

And as  it was his farewell message to shareholders – he is retiring as Rio Tinto’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) on 1 July – in a sense he was indeed saying goodnight to the children.

Sam and Chairman Jan du Plessis were joined this year by Sam’s heir apparent, Jean-Sebastien Jacques, who will exercise all our powers of concentration next year, as he tends to speak quickly, quietly and at times indistinctly, so that we had to ask him to speak up. Perhaps we’re just getting old.

After the predictable lengthy contributions from the Chairman and CEO and the less predictable and less lengthy contribution from JS Jacques, all telling us how wonderful the company is, we heard a number of speakers supporting Resolution 17, calling for the company to report more fully on: operational carbon emissions management; asset portfolio resilience given various probable climate change outcomes; low carbon research, development and investment; relevant key performance indicators and executive incentives; and public policy positions relating to climate change.

This was a worthy, if rather limited, resolution, supported by the Board itself. Unfortunately, so many people spoke about it that it meant  we ran out of time to raise a number of the questions we had hoped to raise.

Nonetheless, Richard Harkinson from LMN and our friend Sukhgerel Dugersuren from Oyu Tolgoi Watch did manage to grill the company about the destructive impacts of the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold project in Mongolia on local nomadic herders and water availability, and challenged it over its decision to use coal to produce power for the project.

Andrew Hickman from LMN brought a number of demands from communities in Kalimantan, Indonesia, suffering from the legacy of the now-closed Kelian gold mine.

Our friend Sreedhar Ramamurthi from Indian organisation Mines, Minerals and People, and mining researcher Roger Moody, spoke about the company’s planned Bunder diamond project in India, which would destroy forest and affect tiger habitat and is strongly opposed by local communities. Roger demanded to know why the company had still not responded to the points made in the report that he and Sreedhar had published in 2013, despite promises made in 2014 and 2015 that a response would be made.

Our friend Roger Featherstone of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition voiced opposition to the planned Resolution Copper project in the USA, which would violate land sacred to the San Carlos Apache and is opposed by many conservationists and other local people. He invited the Board to sign a legal letter accepting full responsibility for any damage done to local people’s homes and businesses, but unsurprisingly none of them was willing to sign it.

Our friend Mamy Rakotondrainibe of the Collective for the Defence of Malagasy lands pointed out that the company’s biodiversity offsetting operations in Madagascar, supposed to protect land that might otherwise be destroyed and leading to a net gain in local biodiversity, were in fact destroying local people’s ability to make a living from their land and making their situation even more precarious than it was before.

The company’s answers to all these points, and many others made by shareholders, struck us as inadequate and evasive. You can judge for yourself from the report below.

Meanwhile, the mining machine rolls ever onwards and the struggle of workers and communities for justice and environmental protection continues.

Rio Tinto AGM 14 April 2016

A full webcast of the meeting is available at http://edge.media-server.com/m/p/8w3apqed (requires registration). Other company documentation about the AGM is available at http://www.riotinto.com/investors/agm-5314.aspx.

Shareholder questions, and the company’s responses, are reported after the initial reports from Chairman, CEO and Deputy CEO.

Company Chairman Jan du Plessis began by saying that the company had continued to deliver shareholder returns despite difficulties in the industry and had delivered tangible social and economic benefits to host communities and countries.

He said that safety is of paramount importance to Rio Tinto. Each daily shift starts with a safety briefing for every worker.

He welcomed Deputy Chief Executive Jean Sebastien Jacques who will take over from Sam Walsh in July.

He said that there had been great volatility and a sharp deterioration in commodity prices. Nonetheless Rio Tinto had delivered a solid financial performance through productivity improvements and cost cuts. The full year 2015 dividend was in line with the 2014 dividend. But profitability across the sector has been affected by the downturn in commodity prices. So the Board had decided to replace its progressive dividend policy with a more flexible policy, enabling a bigger dividend to be paid when commodity prices are high. He said that this is a prudent response. The full year dividend this year will be not less than 110 cents per share.

He said that the Board make site visits to the company’s operations. In 2015 they visited the smelter at Kitimat and the bauxite operations at Weipa in Australia. Kitimat is very green because of the use of hydro power, and he claimed that Weipa shows how to recover and build trust with indigenous communities.

He said that Rio Tinto leads the industry in its commitment to tax transparency, showing the economic value it generates.

He said that Rio Tinto had signed the pledge for action on climate change at the COP 21 talks in Paris. It had set a goal of lowering emissions by 24% by 2020 and had already lowered them 21% from the baseline. The company had engaged with the Aiming for A coalition and supported the resolution being put by the coalition to the AGM. It was open to considering new ways to enhance  its activities.

He said that the company’s focus must remain on safety, cutting costs and growing its business. The trend to urbanisation will continue to increase demand for the metals and minerals Rio Tinto produces for many years to come.

He said that Sam Walsh would be retiring on 1 July. Sam had transformed the leadership of Rio Tinto. He had taken over in difficult circumstances. The company was now safer and more confident. Sam had removed significant costs and strengthened the balance sheet. Jean Sebastien Jacques would take over on 2 July. His performance as chief executive of the copper group had been outstanding.

Sam Walsh repeated the Chairman’s assertion that safety was the company’s number one priority. In recent years it had made great strides in improving safety but must do better. Injury rates had been reduced but the focus on reducing injury does not predict catastrophic events. Four people had died at or around the company’s operations in 2015. To help eliminate fatalities the company is rolling out a critical risk management programme. This is not a magic formula but an important tool to help eliminate accidents.

He said that Rio Tinto is the world’s most profitable mining company by underlying earnings. It is only investing in the highest earning projects. Over the next two years it will cut operating costs further by two billion dollars. Pilbara iron ore operations rely on a fleet of driverless trucks. Oyu Tolgoi has been assured of four billion dollars to develop its underground project. With the finance package now in place the company is working towards the necessary approvals.

He said that there had been strong growth in indigenous employment in Australia and that Rio Tinto is one of largest employers of indigenous Australians.

Jean Sebastien Jacques added that Rio Tinto workers are united by a strong corporate culture and commitment to safety. Health and safety are to be above everything else, the number one priority.

Director John Varley, from the Remuneration Committee, then gave a long talk about why Rio Tinto executives are paid so much.

Jan du Plessis then asked those supporting Resolution 17 to speak about it.

Resolution 17 was a special resolution which read as follows:

Strategic resilience for 2035 and beyond

That in order to address our interest in the longer term success of the Company, given the recognised risks and opportunities associated with climate change, we as shareholders of the Company direct that routine annual reporting from 2017 includes further information about:
1)  ongoing operational emissions management;
2)  asset portfolio resilience to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) scenarios;
3)  low-carbon energy research and development (R&D) and investment strategies;
4)  relevant strategic key performance indicators (KPIs) and executive incentives; and
5)  public policy positions relating to climate change.
This additional ongoing annual reporting could build on the disclosures already made to CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) and/or those already made within the Company’s Annual Report and Sustainable Development Report.

A spokesperson for the Aiming for A coalition said that it was evident that the company had already put a lot of thought into how to fulfil Resolution 17 and he welcomed the Board’s support for the resolution. A low carbon economy may present risks to business but significant opportunities are presented by the make-up of the company’s commodities portfolio, and the company can thrive in a low carbon economy.

Jan du Plessis replied that the Board wanted to work with the Aiming for A coalition to see how the company can do things better. Vast companies like Rio Tinto are not uncomfortable dealing with climate change issues, he asserted, and Rio Tinto has been working on this for years. As an example, 80% of the energy for its aluminium operations comes from hydro power generation. The use of aluminium in vehicles increases fuel efficiency as it is light. Copper is a critical component in various green technologies. Borates are used in insulating buildings, which lowers energy use. Uranium is a reliable source of alternative energy without the carbon consequences of fossil fuels (he did not mention the problem of nuclear waste, of course).

Bruce Dogood from Hermes – part of the Aiming for A coalition – welcomed the commitment to reducing carbon emissions. He wanted to see a greater focus on energy efficiency. He said that this could future-proof the business against the rising cost of carbon. Could the company provide further details in its standard reporting on greenhouse gas emissions and on targets and strategies for achieving them?

Jan du Plessis said that the company will work with the coalition on this. An example of its commitment to this was its decision not to fly directors from Australia to the London AGM but having them join by video conferencing. Further progress can be made. (He did not suggest that progress against climate change might perhaps involve deciding not to mine coal.)

A spokesperson for Rathbone Greenbank Investments, part of the Aiming for A coalition, said that a core concern of long-term shareholders was that the opportunities and challenges of climate change be included in the company’s executive remuneration strategy. Would the company do this?

Jan du Plessis replied that the Board had discussed this from time to time. The climate change challenge is a long-term challenge, and to try to measure performance in a short-term bonus plan does not make sense. They would give it further thought. He noted that a group of institutional  shareholders is also working for massive simplification of remuneration schemes as they are so complex. Jan du Plessis said he supported this. It is important to make sure that climate issues do not make the remuneration scheme even more complex.

Jennifer Anderson of the Pensions Trust said that the oil and gas industry had called for a meaningful price on carbon. What did Rio Tinto think of this and did it intend to review its climate policy?

Jan du Plessis said that the company always used carbon pricing assumptions in its long term projects. In the case of the aluminium industry, a global price on carbon would be helpful because of the fact that 80% of its energy came from hydro power. The qualification is that it is asking too much for the world to agree quickly how to manage carbon. The world needs to arrive at a broad understanding of the cost of carbon. If some governments impose a substantial carbon cost on their industries prematurely, the communities relying on them will pay a price if they rely on energy-intensive industries, as these may migrate to jurisdictions with lower carbon costs.

Shareholder Robert Muriel said that Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton had been producing more iron ore in the last three years than in the past on the assumption that it would keep competitors out, but it also lowers the price. He said there was a parallel with Saudi Arabia and oil. He also said that the purchase of Alcan hurt investors badly and commented on the falling dividend.

Jan du Plessis said that the decision on the dividend had been difficult. The Board realised that many private shareholders live off their dividends. Many mining companies are not paying any dividend. On iron ore pricing, he said that the idea that Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton were trying to interfere with the iron ore market was nonsense. There was no intention of squeezing anyone out of the market and they were not flooding the market. He said that buying Alcan had not been Rio Tinto’s proudest moment. Nonetheless, it had brought the company good assets. As carbon becomes a bigger issue, these assets would help them.

Another shareholder pointed out that, earlier in the week, US coal mining company Peabody had filed for bankruptcy. She said that China was cutting bank on its coal imports and that Rio Tinto had sold several coal assets. Would Rio Tinto sell its remaining coal assets before the mines were no longer worth anything?

Jan du Plessis replied that the company had sold some of its Australian coal assets for a good value. Its coal assets in Australia now are tier 1 assets, high class. If ever the company were to sell them it would sell for good value. He said that using coal has carbon consequences but he asserted that for many years to come, especially in poor developing economies, coal would be the energy source of choice. The world, he said, would be coal dependent for a long time, so these are still good assets and play a key role in our portfolio. (He did not speak about what shape the company would be in in the world of climate apocalypse guaranteed by continuing to use coal.)

Shareholder John Farmer complained about the failure of the company’s online voting system. He also complained of the clash of the Rio Tinto and BP AGMs and asked that such clashes be avoided in future. And he complained about the company’s use of two billion dollars in a share buy back, given its losses. He said that both the share price and the dividend had gone down.

Jan du Plessis agreed that online voting had had problems. The clash of AGMs was an old topic. The reality is that all organisations have their own rhythms and commitments and venues are hard to come by, booked up two or three years in advance. He said that this is going to continue to happen. He said that share buybacks are widely used by companies though they are controversial.

Shareholder Victor Anderson, referring to Resolution 17, asked what would be the impact on the company if global average temperature rises were to go above two degrees. Did the company have plans for responses to different scenarios?

Jan du Plessis replied that the company would do a lot of work in the next year with people like Mr Anderson to conclude how it should proceed.

Richard Harkinson of London Mining Network introduced Sukhgerel Dugersuren, Executive Director of Oyu Tolgoi Watch in Mongolia. He said that the Chairman had spoken of coal as a ‘fuel of choice’ in countries like Mongolia. He said that in Mongolia the choice is Rio Tinto’s. He suggested that the choice of coal to fulfil the Oyu Tolgoi mine’s huge energy needs was taken because of the fact that Rio Tinto had acquired the assets of Ivanhoe, including South Gobi Resources, which has coal. He said that the Oyu Tolgoi mine’s power plant could be supplied at less cost with wind power. He also noted, as a parallel, that despite the Chairman’s reference to aluminium as a green metal, the company’s mining of the aluminium ore bauxite in Queensland involved massive deforestation and transportation of large quantities of ore around the coast, past the Great Barrier Reef, to the Gladstone refinery. He said that the refined product would then be shipped to China. He concluded that it is good to have broad brush climate polices but that the company needed to look rigorously project by project.

Sam Walsh replied that twelve of the 22 million tonnes of ore mined at the company’s Queensland operations would be transported to the alumina refinery at Gladstone, which feeds aluminium assets in Australia. The plan is not to export to China. But there is a plan to export ten million tonnes of additional capacity. He said there is a rigorous reforestation plan at Weipa. Trees growing back at different heights reflect years of replanting. Weipa created a solar power station to assist with power needs there. It was a world class project.

Sukhgerel Dugersuren of Oyu Tolgoi Watch said that one billion dollars is being loaned by Rio Tinto subsidiary Turquoise Hill for the construction of the coal-fired power plant. She said that she had a message from the nomadic herders of Khanbogd, affected by the Oyu Tolgoi project. The first phase of the mine had affected 300 nomadic households in that area by taking away their pasture and water resources. The complaints of herders had not been satisfied. An audit report had been completed in 2013 and was supposed to take Rio Tinto towards compliance with the appropriate standards on community engagement and information disclosure. Stakeholder engagement on water diversion had been closed without sufficient justification. Oyu Tolgoi Watch had been told that the company’s technical feasibility study had not changed to the extent that a new Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) was needed, but critics could not check that assertion as the study had not been disclosed. When would an ESIA be done and when would herders be told how much more pasture the company would take away from them? They want the study disclosed so they can get independent advice. Right now they are losing an important amenity. They cannot move and herd and sustain their livelihood. One herder living near the mine has invited Rio Tinto’s incoming CEO, Jean Sebastien Jacques, to visit him and see for himself. He has high hopes that if the CEO from Ulaanbaatar will not come, then top level people from the company’s headquarters in London could come and effect change for their livelihoods. When would the feasibility study be disclosed?

Jean Sebastien Jacques said that phase 1 of the mine is under way and that it receives energy from China. The investment agreement with the Mongolian government says that at some point in time the mine needs a local source of energy. If the company invests in phase 2, it needs a local source of energy. Rio Tinto signed an agreement with the government to study and assess options. If the Board agrees to phase 2, the mine will need 300,000 megawatts per year and will need to build a power station with capacity of 450,000 megawatts. Work is under way with the government. No decision has been made yet.

On herders, Jean Sebastien Jacques said that at the start of the project 89 herders were identified as being affected. All 89 have signed agreements in relation to Oyu Tolgoi. Rio Tinto had put in place 4.4. billion dollars of finance. All the funding institutions had been through a thorough due diligence process and the project had been audited by them. Jean Sebastien Jacques said he was comfortable with the work Rio Tinto is doing and that is why it got project finance. It is audited by external parties and they think what it is doing keeps to their strict standards. He said that local management may not have met all the herders and he would follow up on this. On the feasibility study, it had been updated under Mongolian law and submitted to the government and approved by the Mongolian authority in charge of reviewing documents. On disclosure, he said that technical updates were disclosed regularly and the company would disclose the latest in due course.

Andrew Hickman of London Mining Network spoke about the Kelian mine in Indonesia. The mine had closed several years ago. Earlier in the AGM there had been talk of rehabilitation at Weipa in Australia. The common issue is the legacy of Rio Tinto. The company’s licence to operate depends on its ability to be able to say that land and communities are rehabilitated at the end of a project. Andrew had received a communication from Pak Pius, a community leader at Kelian. Local communities are still asking about legacy. They have specific demands: 444 heads of families in Tutung village want to know when 25.4 hectares of land will be released to them as promised by Rio Tinto and its joint venture partner PT Kem when the community was forcibly resettled. At Gah Donggo village, 98 heads of families want rights to adequate land for building and crop growing. PT Kem must ensure that these outstanding issues are resolved by the mine closure committee. There must be an immediate audit for the 60 billion rupiah rehabilitation project. Outstanding human rights violations committed during the project and since must be investigated and resolved including a shooting at the Kelian site in 2008. Communities are still asking for justice and for restitution. Will Rio Tinto commit to establishing an independent audit for these communities?

Jan du Plessis replied that it would be better to raise such complex issues privately with the company rather than in an AGM. Sam Walsh said he was unable to comment on all the issues raised. Kelian closed seven years ago. Rio Tinto is proud of its rehabilitation. It won an Indonesian government award for forest reclamation. Monitoring and closure compliance issues are tracked. The company is in discussion with the Indonesian government about completing the work and handing the area back to the government. He did not know exactly what the status of the operation was but it may resolve some of the questions about access to land, as the Indonesian government also recognised the claims made. Rio Tinto has set up funds to assist the community.

Diane Boyles from ShareAction said that Rio Tinto affirmed on page 12 of its annual report that much of its competitive advantage comes from its people. But the company needs better workforce reporting. Its statistics are confusing: the numbers reported as contractors are lower than numbers reported by the unions.

Jan du Plessis replied that company reports already include a lot of detail and he was concerned that they would become unreadably long. Sam Walsh said he was not aware that workforce reporting was an issue. The company does need to have an accurate count of its employees and contractors. Rio Tinto has 55,000 employees across 40 countries. He suggested speaking about this after the meeting.

Aislinn Lambert, also of ShareAction, said that she was happy that Rio Tinto is open to new ways to respond to climate change. But the company’s record on lobbying against climate legislation is a bad one. The company plays a leading role in shaping the policies of trade bodies in Australia that take obstructive positions on environmental and climate matters, including carbon taxes.

Jan du Plessis said that Rio Tinto understands that the world needs a broad consensus on the price of carbon but that it opposed plans in Australia as it is pointless imposing a tax on relatively clean coal from Australia, forcing people who need coal to seek dirtier alternatives.

Sam Walsh said that Rio Tinto’s policies on climate change and greenhouse gases are on its website and that the company does recognise the human origin of the problem. The company’s preference is for global market-based mechanism rather than moving country by country, as this would just move greenhouse gas emissions from one country to another, perhaps to countries which have weaker policies. On renewable energy targets, the company has a solar power station at Weipa and wind power in Western Australia. 65% of Rio Tinto’s energy comes from hydro and wind. The company has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 21% since 2008 through a lot of work on energy efficiency, technology and innovation, and by the closure of businesses. The company is actively working to improve its environmental performance. On renewables targets in Australia, the company’s Tasmanian operations are driven by hydro power and it needs to purchase renewable energy certificates for that. He asked, if you are already buying hydro power why do you need certificates? Trade associations in Australia represent a broad spectrum of people. Rio Tinto makes its point of view known. There are some areas of disagreement but the majority carries the day. Rio Tinto takes environmental impacts seriously. The support which the Board has given to Resolution 17 is evidence of our attitude.

Sreedhar Ramamurthi, of Indian organisation Mines, Minerals and People, said that despite the assertion that Rio Tinto’s operations were ‘world class’, its diamond exploration project in India is certainly not ‘world class’. There had been violations in the exploration stage and much opposition in the public hearing. Two years ago, Sreedhar and mining researcher Roger Moody had published a report on the project and had expected some response from the company. No response had come from the local or global company management about violations taking place during the exploration stage. Why set up this disastrous project in a drought-prone area, threatening a corridor between the best tiger habitats?

Sam Walsh said that the Bunder diamond project is an exploration project. Rio Tinto had done a lot of work and invested 90 million dollars. It had been waiting for eleven years for various approvals to come through. It is the first diamond pipe discovered in India and is physically quite prospective. Rio Tinto had not cut down any trees since 2007 and had been initiating biodiversity studies with a team in the villages around the project. There was also a water delivery and nutrition project. Sam Walsh was not hopeful that the project would be approved in the near term. It is currently going through the permitting procedure with public comment, which will be useful if it decides to take project the forward. Sam Walsh had discussed the project with the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, whom he said he deeply respects. Rio Tinto needs to continue to work through the processes until it reaches the stage of having approvals.

Roger Moody asked why there had been no response from the company to the 2013 report concerning the treatment of women, the corporate social responsibility programme, schooling and water. There had been no response despite two promises being made on two separate occasions that there would be one.

Sam Walsh said that Roger made it sound as though the project were physically up and running. It is in limbo, has been in limbo for five or more years as the company has waited for guidance on approvals.

Roger replied that the project may or may not be in limbo but that the company was awaiting a lot of information, and surely it needed the kind of information that Sreedhar and he been providing for three years and that it had not responded to? Alan Davies, Rio Tinto’s Chief Executive of Diamonds and Minerals, had assured Roger in 2015 that the report would be taken seriously and a response given, but it had not been given.

Another shareholder spoke about the Samarco tailings dam collapse in Brazil last November. She asked whether Rio Tinto had had experts going round its tailings ponds checking them out to make sure they are safe.

Jan du Plessis said that the company did exactly that after the Samacro disaster and spent a lot of time on the Board discussing the types of tailings facilities that Rio Tinto has.

Sam Walsh said that Rio Tinto has 35 tailings dams across the organisation and has a standard saying how dams should be constructed, audited and operated. Following the Mt Polley failure in Canada, Rio Tinto revived and updated the standard. Following the Samarco failure, Rio Tinto had every managing director of a tailings dam operation go to check and assure the Board that all standards were being carried out. Dams are independently audited on rotation depending on the commodity and geo-technical issues. Work that came back from the managing directors confirmed that all dams are up to the company’s standard. The ICMM (International Council on Mining and Minerals) has initiated an independent review of tailings dams and procedures connected with them. Rio Tinto is co-operating with that.

Roger Featherstone, Director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, said that he continued to be troubled by the activities of Rio Tinto at Oak Flat, which is sacred and ecologically priceless public land.

He said:

“First I will note that on March 5 of this year, the US National Park Service determined that Oak Flat is a Traditional Cultural Property and placed Oak Flat (under its Apache name Chi’chil Bildagoteel) on the Nation’s list of Historic Places. It was very disappointing that Rio Tinto worked hard to scuttle the designation. This doesn’t fit with Rio Tinto’s policies on human rights.

“Secondly, Rio Tinto’s plans to dispose of a mountain of toxic tailings on US public land using the very methods that experts have strongly cautioned mines not to use in light of recent tailings failures worldwide. Residents of the town of Queen Valley are terrified. Not only are they being asked to live with the knowledge that if the tailings dam fails, they would have five minutes to evacuate before their homes would be destroyed, they risk the contamination of their water supply. They have asked me to read to you the following short letter:

“Dear Rio Tinto Board Members:

“My name is John Krieg, and I’m the Chairperson of Save Tonto National Forest. Save Tonto National Forest members live in Queen Creek and work to protect recreational access and the sustainability of the Tonto National Forest. I have a home in Queen Valley, Arizona, as do many of our members. One of your subsidiaries, Resolution Copper Company, has proposed putting a tailings pile 3 1/2 miles upstream from the community of Queen Valley. The tailings pile would be over 500 feet tall, the tallest in the world, and contain approximately 1.5 billion tons of tailings material and will be located next to Queen Creek. The residents of Queen Valley rely on the water from the Queen Creek drainage for drinking and to supply the surface water to our community. This tailings pile would cover up many square miles of our watershed and recreational trails in the Tonto National Forest. Resolution Copper executives have promised that their project would not harm Queen Valley. We ask you to be liable for damages to the residents, businesses, utilities, and the golf course in Queen Valley, Arizona, resulting from the Resolution Copper mine project, as any responsible mining company would. Thank you for your consideration, as we are very concerned about the health and welfare of our community. Please sign the accompanying document assuming liability. John Krieg, Chairperson, Save Tonto National Forest.”

“So,” concluded Roger, “my question is, which one of you wants to sign this agreement?”

There was some amusement at this question.

Jean Sebastien Jacques said that he had had a good conversation with Roger the day before and had covered lots of ground. The permitting process for the potential mine had started. It is called a NEEPA process. It is very comprehensive and can take several years. It started four or five weeks ago. It is led and managed by the US Forest Service. Rio Tinto has nothing to hide with regard to permitting. Rio Tinto will not make any comment on whether the land is sacred as it cannot make this determination, as the company relies on the US authorities to make this determination. If Roger has specific issues to raise he would be happy to put him in touch with the team on the ground.

(After the AGM, Roger handed over the proposed agreement to Jean Sebastien Jacques, who declined to sign it. It is appended below.)

Mamy Rakotondrainibe of the Collective for the Defence of Malagasy Lands said:

“Rio Tinto and its partners from the conservation sector claim that the company’s biodiversity conservation strategy will not only compensate for biodiversity loss caused by the destruction of a unique forest in south-eastern Madagascar but that mining for ilmenite at Fort Dauphin will even have a “Net Positive Impact” on biodiversity in the end.

“A report is being released today. Colleagues from World Rainforest Movement and Re:Common performed a visit in the field and their report shows that communities at least at one of the biodiversity offset locations, the Bemangidy-Ivohibe offset site, were prohibited from planting their staple food, manioc, at the edge of the forest because the forest is now a biodiversity offset for Rio Tinto QMM. The only place left for villagers to grow their staple food, manioc, are the sand dunes, and they do not know now how to feed their families. So the villagers whose subsistence livelihoods were already precarious before the biodiversity offset are made even more precarious. Income-generating alternatives to alleviate the loss of access to the forest had been promised but have not yet been materialized, while severe restrictions on community forest use are already in place.

“The Rio Tinto biodiversity offset project at Bemangidy-Ivohibe and the other conservation measures at the QMM Fort Dauphin ilmenite mine do not compensate for the destruction of 1,600 hectares of a forest that was very rich in plant and animal species found only in this type of endangered coastal forest in Madagascar.

“Worse, the families at the village of Antsotso face food shortages of their staple food, manioc, because of the Bemangidy-Ivohibe biodiversity offset.

“My two questions are:

“What will Rio Tinto do to ensure families at Antsotso do not have to go poorer and hungry as a result of the company’s biodiversity offset project?

“On what basis does Rio Tinto claim that the destruction of 1,600 hectares of forests at the ilmenite mine will have a “Net Positive Impact” on biodiversity?”

Sam Walsh said that this was a complex issue. The company had agreed the biodiversity offsets with the government as a way of meeting their requirements. The company is working in conjunction with the government. In March this year, after two years of work, the company had signed the country’s first land access agreement. It is working hard to meet all demands. This was the first time he had heard comments about the problems caused by biodiversity offsets.

Jan du Plessis said that Sam Walsh and he were always available to discuss these points.

And with that he brought the long meeting to an end.

--

Appendix 1

AGREEMENT TO INDEMNIFY AND HOLD HARMLESS
between
RESOLUTION COPPER MINING, LLC
And the residents of QUEEN VALLEY

This Agreement (“Agreement”) is entered into by and between Rio Tinto, a British Australian corporation, the parent corporation of Resolution Copper Mining Company, a Delaware limited liability company, including any successor, assign, affiliate, member, or joint venture of Resolution Copper Mining, LLC (as defined by P.L. 113-291, § 3003) or any contractor retained by Rio Tinto or Resolution Copper Mining, LLC, and the town of Queen Valley, a census-designated place located in Pinal County, Arizona and its residents, utilities and other entities as defined herein (“Queen Valley”)(collectively “Parties”).

Section 1: Recitals

The Parties hereby agree as follows:

1.1. This Agreement shall apply to and govern any and all of Rio Tinto’s intended land exchange activities codified at P.L. 113-291, § 3003 and Mine related activities as defined herein.

1.2. Rio Tinto agrees to and assumes full liability for any and all damages to the residents of Queen Valley, the businesses of Queen Valley, the utilities of Queen Valley, and the Queen Valley Golf Course as a result of land exchange and any and all Mine related activities. Rio Tinto shall defend, hold harmless and indemnify Queen Valley from any and all liabilities, losses, damages, suits, claims, judgments, fines, penalties, demands or expenses, including, but not limited to, as may be reasonably determined to be necessary by Queen Valley (a) all reasonable costs to investigate, correct, clean up or mitigate any harms of any type experienced by Queen Valley due to the legislated land exchange or any Mine related activities; and (b) all attorney’s fees, court costs, expert fees, and consultant expenses incurred by or on behalf of Queen Valley as the result of the land exchange codified at P.L. 113-291 § 3003 and/or any of the Mine related activities performed by Rio Tinto or its contractors.

1.3. Regardless of any provision of State or Federal law, Rio Tinto shall not interfere with or injure the water rights, physical water supply or the water quality of water relied upon by Queen Valley (whether surface or groundwater) for any purpose. Rio Tinto expressly assumes full liability for such injuries in accordance with Section 1.2 of this Agreement.

Section 2: Definitions

2.1. “Queen Valley” means the town of Queen Valley, the individual residents of Queen Valley, the businesses of Queen Valley, the utilities of Queen Valley, and the Queen Valley Golf Course.

2.3. “Mining related activities” means those activities outlined in P.L. 113-291 § 3003, and all activities outlined for the proposed mine described in the General Plan of Operations, Resolution Copper Mining (“Mining Plan”), initially submitted on November 15, 2013 and subsequently amended or supplemented, and any other mine related actions of any kind, including, but not limited to, the “granting of any permits, rights-of-way, or approvals for the construction of associated power, water, transportation, processing, tailings, waste disposal, or other ancillary facilities” as described  in P.L. 113-291 § 3003.

Section 3: Miscellaneous Provisions

3.1. Parties agree that the terms of this Agreement shall be immediately binding, and shall be retroactively effective to the date of the passage of P.L. 113-291 § 3003 (December 19, 2014). Any future agreements entered between Parties shall be memorialized by adopting an Addendum to this Agreement.

3.2. If any provision of this Agreement is held to be invalid or unenforceable, the remaining provisions shall continue to be valid and enforceable to the full extend permitted by law. If any such provision or part is stricken in accordance with this Section, the stricken provision or part will be replaced by such trier of fact, to the extent reasonably possible, with a legal, enforceable and valid provision that preserves the intent of the Parties reflected in this Agreement, and comes close to expressing the intent of the stricken provision or part.

3.3. This Agreement shall be governed under Arizona Law.
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Representative, DATE
Rio Tinto Group
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Authorized Official, DATE
Queen Valley, Arizona

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Appendix 2: Questions we did not get time to ask

On uranium exports to India

"I see that Rio Tinto considers uranium to be an opportunity with regard to alternative energy resources. But uranium is associated with nuclear weapons as well as nuclear power. The two go hand in hand. Are you not concerned about selling uranium to India, considering that it has never signed the nuclear non proliferation treaty and, together with its neighbour Pakistan, is increasing its nuclear missile arsenal?"

On worker fatalities

"Health and safety performance is of critical significance to both Rio Tinto workers and shareholders. Rio Tinto says that health and safety is a core priority for the company and claims that its health and safety performance has improved dramatically in recent years.

It is difficult to understand how that could be the case given that worker deaths at Rio Tinto continue. Rio Tinto says it has a “zero fatalities” policy. However in 2015 the company had at least 7 fatalities in 6 different countries at worksites it either operates or at which it has significant investment and considerable influence.

My question is, how does Rio Tinto explain the disjuncture between a zero fatalities policy and ongoing deaths in so many places around the world? Second, as at least 3 of the 7 workers fatally injured at Rio Tinto worksites in 2015 were contract workers, has the company investigated whether there’s a relationship between contracting practices and health and safety performance?"

On Bougainville Copper Limited and the Panguna Mine

I’d like to ask 3 questions seeking to clarify Rio’s position with respect to its majority shareholding in Bougainville Copper Limited and with respect to Rio’s intention to re-open or not re-open the Panguna Mine on Bougainville.

By way of context, in August 2014 Rio announced a review into its investment in BCL, but as of today has not yet completed or reported on that review.

My own review, with colleagues, of publically available information, as well as the findings reported by other analysts, suggests that the re-opening of the Panguna Mine has no strong business case.

Furthermore, well researched reports published by civil society show wide-spread opposition to a re-opening of the mine.

President of the Autonomous Bougainville Government, John Momis, has clearly stated the ABG position on BCL, both to Rio officers in February 2016 in Singapore and to the Bougainville House of Representatives on April 5th.  The stated ABG position is that if Rio decides to end its investment in BCL:

(i) “there must be equity transfer to the ABG and landowners without any payment” and

(ii) “Rio must take full responsibility for an environmental clean-up and for dealing with other major mine legacy issues.”

In the light of this context, I ask:

1.  Does Rio intend to retain its investment in BCL and does Rio intend to re-open the Panguna Mine?

2.  If not, how does Rio intend to dispose of its BCL shareholding?

3.  Has an estimate been made by Rio of potential clean-up and compensation costs?  What contingency has Rio made to cover these potential costs?


India has to choose between saving its tigers or becoming one of the largest diamond producers

A proposed diamond mining project, spread over 971 hectares of forest land, awaits the final nod of the Indian government.

India has to choose between saving its tigers or becoming one of the largest diamond producers

Madhura Karnik and Manu Balachandran, Quartz, qz.com

http://scroll.in/article/806018/india-has-to-choose-between-saving-its-tigers-or-becoming-one-of-the-largest-diamond-producers

3 April 2016

India has a tough choice to make.

Will it be a Rs 20,520 crore diamond mining project or one of the world’s most beautiful wild beasts and nearly 1,000 hectares of pristine forest with other exotic flora and fauna?

For close to a decade, this question has riled decision-makers in the country as they have weighed the pros and cons of letting Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining companies, look for diamonds under the Chhatarpur forests in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

Now, India’s forest advisory committee – a statutory body in charge of environmental clearance – is deliberating the proposal to award the final clearance. Once the committee gives its final say, the environment ministry seldom rejects those recommendations.

Rio Tinto’s proposed project will be located in Madhya Pradesh’s Bunder region and will be spread over 971 hectares of forest land.

Activists say the project could destroy a tiger corridor – a stretch through which the big cat moves from one forest to another – that falls in the area, besides felling some 492,000 trees and displacing many native tribal communities and animal species.

Only the Narendra Modi government can stop that.

“The project is still under consideration and is being studied,” SS Negi the director general of forests and head of the forest advisory committee, told Quartz over phone.

“We are making progress on the Bunder project working through the approvals process with the government and advancing the work required to enable the mine to proceed into development,” a spokesperson for Rio Tinto told Quartz by email.
Too valuable to be mined

The Bunder project falls in an area that is estimated to have ore deposits that could yield over 34.2 million carats of diamond. The mineral value of the project is estimated at Rs 20,520 crore.

Rio Tinto claims it “would place India among the top 10 diamond producers in the world.” But the forest has been identified as an “inviolate area” or one that is too dense and valuable to be mined.

It was in 2004 that the company discovered the huge reserves. In September 2006, it secured a prospecting licence, allowing it to continue exploration in the area. In July 2013, the Indian Bureau of Mines approved its mining plan.

So far, the company has invested $90 million in exploration, evaluation and pre-feasibility studies, the spokesperson for Rio Tinto said. “Bunder is positive proof of India’s prospectivity and can showcase a new era of investment friendly governance,” the spokesperson added.
Environmental fears

The project site is located very close to the Panna Tiger Reserve and the Navardehi Wildlife Sanctuary. This area is home to species such as the monitor lizard, Indian pumped vulture, sloth bear, leopards and the Indian gazelle.

“The project certainly falls in the tiger landscape,” Raghu Chundawat, a conservation biologist, told Quartz. “We are still not clear about the size of the project, but a large project will definitely affect the movement of tigers and especially with infrastructure development.”

Even the government of Madhya Pradesh, in its report to the central government, has confirmed this. “It is reported that some rare and endangered species of wild animals (chausinga, leopard, cheetal, chinkara, peacock, etc.) are found in the area. It is also indicated that the area is used by tigers as their migratory corridor,” the government said in the report (pdf).

In 2010, tiger expert Valmik Thapar said the Bunder project is “an example of a completely dysfunctional system of government from top to bottom.” In case there is a loss of tigers in Panna, Thapar said, it would take at least 10 years for recovery.

Besides, the project could hamper water resources essential to the area’s wildlife.

A 2013 report (pdf) by London-based Nostromo Research said Rio Tinto could further aggravate the water scarcity in surrounding areas as crucial species of trees would be cut.

The Nostromo report also challenged Rio Tinto’s community development work in Bunder, pointing out gaps in education initiatives, workers’ rights policies and job creation initiatives for locals.

“There has also been a lot of opposition at public hearings from villagers, and the wildlife department has said that tiger spotting happens at the zone. But for some strange reason, the government seems to be favouring big corporates,” Sreedhar Ramamurthi, an earth scientist and management trustee at NGO Environics Trust, told Quartz.
Rio’s defence

Rio Tinto, however, maintains that there won’t be any damage to tigers or other wildlife in the area.

“First, the project is much further north of the green belt that connects the two national parks, and there have been no known tiger sightings in the last seven years in and around the applied lease area,” said the company spokesperson. “Rio Tinto has a strong track record in developing world-class diamond mines and respecting the obligations that come with access to the land.”

“The plant is highly automated, uses minimal water through recycling and water harvesting, and does not use any chemicals in the processing of the diamonds,” notes the company on its website.

Neither is India’s environment ministry entirely convinced about the damage from the project.

Last year, former Rio Tinto CEO Sam Walsh even met India’s prime minister Modi and offered to invest $2 billion in India, which includes a $500 million investment in the Bunder project. “(The) prime minister and I have met three times during the past six months, and I talked to him about the two major projects and the opportunities,” Walsh said.
Diamonds and tigers

India’s retail diamond jewellery market is worth a little over $10 billion (Rs 66,435 crore), according to estimates by Rio Tinto. The market may grow over 15% every year between 2014 and 2019. India is also expected to contribute 10% to the world’s retail diamond market by 2020, according to UK-based WWW International Diamond Consultants (pdf), an independent valuation and advisory service provider.

On the other hand, India is home to more than half of the world’s tigers, though the numbers have dwindled dramatically over the years, mostly due to habitat destruction and poaching.

Over the last four decades, the government has run a campaign to save tigers, which has recently shown some positive results. In 2006, there were about 1,411 tigers in the country. The number grew to 2,226 in 2015.

Experts, though, have said that it was too early to celebrate.

“Let’s not jump to celebrate too quickly or begin to relax, because whatever the specific numbers may be, tigers worldwide are still likely less than 5% of their population numbers of a century ago,” Luke Dollar, a conservation biologist, told the National Geographic magazine in January last year.

And with big projects such as Rio Tinto’s endangering wildlife habitat, it is only prudent to implement stringent conservation norms.

This article first appeared on Quartz.


Rio Tinto undermining right to strike

http://www.industriall-union.org/rio-tinto-undermining-right-to-strike

16 March 2016

Rio Tinto has escalated a labour dispute at its aluminium smelter in Iceland by proposing that contractors be denied the right to strike. The company is also proposing to expand the use of lower paid contractors at the site.

Rio Tinto’s drive to increase the use of precarious labour and inflexibility in prolonged negotiations provoked workers that load the aluminium onto ships for export to begin an indefinite strike on 24 February. The company has replaced the strikers with local management and management from France.

Rio Tinto has sunk to a new low by demanding both increased lower paid contractors and a denial of their right to strike,” stated IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan. “Backing that demand by importing strike breakers from overseas shows just how far this company will go in its reckless pursuit of a more precarious workforce.”

Rio Tinto imported two more strike breakers from France this week. Both have a long history as Rio Tinto human resource managers and a reputation as being inflexible in labour negotiations. Neither are known to have experience as dockworkers and one of them turns 60 this year, raising serious questions about their ability to do the job safely and about Rio Tinto’s claim that safety is its top priority.

IndustriALL is coordinating a response by the Rio Tinto Global Union Network to the company’s anti-labour practices against workers in Iceland. Unions in a dozen countries where Rio Tinto has operations have sent letters of solidarity and offers of further support.

IndustriALL has worked with its sister global union, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), to track shipments from Rio Tinto’s Iceland smelter to different countries. Unions at customers of the smelter in Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and the UK have expressed their support urging the customers to demand Rio Tinto negotiate a fair resolution of the strike. IndustriALL has also communicated with major Rio Tinto shareholders about the company’s attack on workers’ rights in Iceland.

Allowing Rio Tinto to import strike breakers and deny a category of workers the right to strike could expose the Government of Iceland to criticism at the ILO International Labour Conference which opens in May. It could also subject Iceland to a complaint with the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association.

Rio Tinto has recently faced two strikes in France. Workers at Carbone Savoie, which Rio Tinto is in the process of selling and where serious questions have been raised about health and safety, have struck in response to Rio Tinto’s failure to consult with unions on the sale and refusal to guarantee investment that would make the operation sustainable. Workers at the Dunkerque aluminium smelter have struck for a fair share of company profits.

“Rio Tinto has recently caused strikes in various countries through its approach to labour relations,” stated Kemal Özkan. “Rather than attempting to deny workers their fundamental rights, it’s time for Rio Tinto to work with unions in Europe and globally to develop a mature and constructive approach to industrial relations.”


Mass retrenchment to cost 300 jobs at Rio Tinto

by Kuzeeko Tjitemisa

New Era - https://www.newera.com.na/2016/04/05/mass-retrenchment-cost-300-jobs-rio-tinto/

5 April 2016

Windhoek - Close to 300 employees at Rössing Uranium Mine face retrenchment should plans by the company to consolidate the management of onsite sub-contractors go ahead.

This is after the mining giant urged all companies it subcontracted for work on its uranium mine to merge in a move aimed at cutting costs, New Era understands. Workers that are set to lose jobs include fine crushers, conveyer maintenance workers and primary crushers, among others.

The Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN) has slammed the apparent plans by the mining giant, saying the move will undermine national growth. MUN Rössing branch chairperson Abiud Kapere last week told New Era the union is deeply concerned about Rössing’s current initiative to outsource the management of onsite contractor companies to foreign-based companies under the pretext of consolidation of management.

Kapere said that the message Rössing is sending to the country at large is that Namibians are incapable of managing affairs from within the country’s borders. “Rössing has been bragging about spending millions of Namibian dollars on an education programmes. Was this programme a white elephant, or why are we not supporting our own professionals to lead Namibia to a new horizon?” Kapere asked.

He said in his view Rössing is promoting the empowerment of South African-based companies.

“It is unspeakable that we establish another foreign-based camp, whilst we can’t manage the current. Painfully, this new strategic approach is designed to empower foreign-based companies rather than empowering Namibians as part of Namibia’s mineral beneficiation processes,” he added.

According to him, foreign-based companies that supply services to Rössing and who are allegedly earmarked to take over the works of Namibian firms include FL Smith, C&E Engineering and IAP.

He said unskilled and experienced local contractors that have been loyal and have been doing work for 10 to 20 years are no longer good enough in the eyes of the new management of Rössing. He added that some workers were told to vacate their premises, as their roles are to be taken over by the South Africans.

Kapere says efforts by the government to change the living conditions of Namibians by empowering them are being undermined by Rio Tinto, as they are doing the complete opposite of what the country aspires to.

The MUN “is throwing its weight behind the Namibian government’s plan to empower and upskill the local market, and we strongly condemn Rössing’s systematic plundering of revenues generated from Namibian minerals through the empowerment of foreign-based companies,” he said. “The conniving to outsource essential services to foreign-based companies is affecting job security and only benefits those that have close links to the arrangements made to benefit the elite South African companies,” he added.

At the time of going to print, Rössing’s corporate communication manager, Ellis Botha, had not replied to questions sent to him on Wednesday last week. Rössing Uranium Mine near Arandis in the Erongo Region, which went into operation in 1974 is the oldest open pit uranium mine in Namibia and one of the largest in the world.


Water Disputes Persist as Rio Tinto Pushes Ahead with Second Oyu Tolgoi Mine

Joint press release

10 February 2016

PRAGUE; KHANBOGD SOUM, MONGOLIA – A large new copper mine in Mongolia could cause irreversible damage to terrain and deprive water from some of the world’s last remaining nomadic herding groups, finds a new report released today by Oyu Tolgoi Watch, the Bank Information Center, CEE Bankwatch Network and Accountability Counsel.

Developed by Rio Tinto, a global mining giant, the US $6.7 billion Oyu Tolgoi Phase 2 project in the Gobi desert is designed to tap the world's largest undeveloped copper deposit. Pre-construction works for the underground mine have already commenced, but the company has so far made little if any information on the expected environmental impacts publicly available, according to the report Oyu Tolgoi Phase 2: Plans, Issues and Risks.

Planned as an expansion to existing operations, the Oyu Tolgoi (OT) project includes an open pit mine that has already diminished water access and water quality, reduced pasture area, and made traditional nomadic herding livelihoods in the area all but impossible to maintain. The project will receive US $4.4 billion in international financing, including from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO), and via the largest syndicated loan ever by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The report, compiled by mining and environmental expert Paul Robinson at the Southwest Research and Information Center, summarizes the expected impacts from the underground mine. The planned block cave mining method is expected to cause surface land to subside by 65 feet or more across a zone of nearly 5 square miles, leaving the affected land permanently unusable and beyond the scope of any remediation technology. Publicly available documents do not identify enough water supplies to sustain the 40-year mine life without depleting the water supplies that herders depend on. Meanwhile, a new coal-fired power plant being considered to power the mine would cause further harms that as yet have not been identified by any environmental assessment.

Local people have been engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the project company since 2013 to discuss disputes over water resources, resettlement and compensation related to the existing OT open pit mine. The process still has not led to a final agreement resolving the dispute, yet Rio Tinto is charging ahead with its plans to develop the new underground mine.

Communities who have already experienced severe impacts from the open pit mine now face further harm from the underground expansion, the extent of which remains unclear. “The herders have not been given up to date project plans, nor have they been properly consulted about the underground mine, even though information disclosure and informed consultation with local people are required by the project's international financiers,” explained Sukhgerel Dugersuren, Executive Director of OT Watch, who is assisting herders in the complaint process.

The findings of the report and the stark realities of herders who have had to abandon their traditional livelihoods fly in the face of a Project Finance International award given last week, which dubbed the OT project “Mining Deal of the Year in the Asia-Pacific region”. “OT is accepting accolades for this project while the problems they have caused for local herders remain unresolved,” said Dugersuren. “The mine is touted for its so-called development benefits, but this is meaningless without a strong commitment from Rio Tinto to address impacts of the new expansion and disclose information to the affected herders.”

Notes for editors:

1. The full report, Oyu Tolgoi Phase 2: Plans, Issues and Risks, is available at: http://bankwatch.org/sites/default/files/OyuTolgoi-Phase2.pdf. An 8-page summary is also available at: http://bankwatch.org/sites/default/files/OyuTolgoi-Phase2-summary.pdf.


Increased SO2 emissions a major issue

Contributed by Sheena Cooper

Kitimat Northern Sentinel

1 April 2016

Dear Editor,

I am writing to you because I suffer from asthma and have had a significant recent ‘flare up’ while living in Kitimat.

My name is Sheena Cooper and I have been living in Kitimat since 2013. I grew up in Terrace so I am familiar with the area. I now run a licensed home daycare in Kitimat. We even purchased a home here as we enjoy living in the north. I am the mother of 2 small boys.

Generally speaking my asthma had been under control since I had moved here, until the week of March 9th, 2016. That day I went in to the hospital to get a nebulizer treatment as I had a wheeze and was coughing. I figured I would just need to go in for a ‘one time’ thing like I have done for the last 16 years. However, it became really bad again the night of Thursday March 10th. My husband and I had to go to the hospital in the middle of the night (Friday, March 11) as I could not stop coughing. I received another dose from the nebulizer at around 2 am. I opened my daycare Friday morning feeling okay, but I told all the parents that I was in the hospital and my asthma was acting up a lot. By 11 am I was becoming nauseous. I notified all parents that I needed to close the daycare immediately and head to the hospital. All parents rushed to pick up their children and my husband rushed me to the hospital. I was put on strong medications to deal with the acute asthma attack.

Things seem to have improved by Friday March 18. Then on Saturday night March 19, I couldn’t stop coughing for 45 minutes even after maxing out my inhaler. I went to the hospital and was very frightened as I could not breathe. It was extremely scary. My lungs were hurting so bad. My eyes felt like they were popping out of my head at every cough. It’s a very scary situation to be in and for your family to see. The doctor listened to my lungs and his words were “They sound horrible”. After I received the nebulizer treatment, I was not coughing much and felt much better. I was prescribed more strong medications.

Today, my lungs are still in really bad shape. I woke up multiple times last night coughing uncontrollably. This is not like my asthma at all. This is not normal at all. This is extremely serious.

What am I supposed to do now? Do I close my daycare, sell my home and move my family away? All because Rio Tinto won’t put scrubbers in? I found out today that Rio Tinto spiked their SO2 levels on March 9, which correlates to the day with when my asthma flared so significantly. Why is Rio Tinto allowed to do this to people?

My family and friends are extremely worried for me, and my clients are worried as well. My daycare currently has at least 4 families who work for Rio Tinto. Kitimat is always in need of more daycare spaces especially for children under 3 years old. My daycare is currently full and I have a waitlist that includes women who are currently still pregnant. I have extremely close bonds to the children in my care and I could not imagine having to up and move all of a sudden because of Rio Tinto being careless about the health of the people of Kitimat.

All I am asking is for the right to be able to BREATHE. That is all I want. I am sorry that it will cost Rio Tinto some money, but the health of Kitimat residents is more important. As a home daycare, I do not make that much money and I am currently the sole provider for our family. This last week has already cost me a few hundred dollars which is a lot to us.

I know I am not the only person in Kitimat to be struggling because of the high levels of SO2 in the air. One of the two year olds in my centre also suffers because of the SO2 levels in the air. There must be more of us suffering right now in Kitimat. And this is preventable.

Please bring forward my situation and concerns to all levels of government and to Rio Tinto.

Sincerely,

Sheena Cooper

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