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Buyat Bay community not giving up on justice and related articles

Published by MAC on 2005-01-04

Buyat Bay community not giving up on justice

JATAM and WALHI Press Release

January 4, 2005

The Buyat Bay community has not dropped the civil suit against the gold mining company Newmont. Newmont's December 28th press release and following media reports stated that the civil suit had been dropped and that the community had conceded that they had no evidence that the company had sickened the citizens with their mine waste. These statements made by Newmont angered and shocked the Buyat community representatives.

Newmont had offered mediation as a possible solution to the Buyat community who are suing the company for US$543 million for causing contamination and sickness in their community.

"We never stated that we want the charges dropped against Newmont dropped and that we have reached a peaceful agreement with Newmont. We feel very heavy and disadvantaged by the statement by Newmont in the media" stated Buyat Bay community representatives in their December 31st letter to the South Jakarta court. This letter asked the South Jakarta court to delay the mediation process until they had time to consider their options.

The Buyat community representatives acting as plaintiffs in the civil suit are meeting with their lawyers to discuss next steps. Newmont's manipulation of information in their press statement that the community has dropped the civil suit is another tactic to shed their
responsibilities to the Buyat Bay community. Newmont's actions show no good will as the world's largest gold mining company to resolve problems they have created in Indonesia. Also, filing defamation lawsuits against five Indonesian activists supporting the Buyat community including the community's lawyer is another hurdle placed by Newmont towards delivering justice to the Buyat community.

Newmont's Indonesian subsidiary Newmont Minahasa Raya had dumped 2000 tons of mine waste daily into Buyat Bay from 1996 to 2004. Shortly after the disposal began, Buyat fishermen experienced a sharp decline in their fish catch and strange diseases began appearing, becoming frequent in the community.

Media Contacts:
Siti Maimunah, JATAM, Phone 0811920462, Email:
Nurhidayati, WALHI, Phone 08129972642, Email :

Newmont: Keep focus on goal

January 01, 2005

Denver Post Editorial

Controversy still surrounds Newmont Mining Corp., despite the company's recent court victories in Indonesia, where it has a large gold mine.

Critics say the Denver-based company has a pattern of environmental problems in Indonesia, Peru, Turkey and Nevada. Newmont says the criticisms should be put in context of what's happening politically in those places, and that it's been targeted by activists (who oppose all mining) because it's the world's largest gold producer. So, the fairest way to evaluate allegations against Newmont is to look for both pattern and context in all four areas.

Newmont has set itself a goal of taking the same level of environmental protection used in the United States wherever it operates in the world. But has it?

Certainly, Newmont is capable of top-notch environmental work. The company owns most of the Idarado Mine in southwestern Colorado, so was responsible for the exemplary cleanup of toxic wastes and landscape repairs on Red Mountain Pass and another site near Telluride. However, the projects took place in a relatively wealthy state, using established law, under the close watch of trained regulators, and in cooperation with environmentalists who didn't have hidden agendas. The setting was ideal.

Indonesia feud is complex

The backdrop is different in Indonesia, a nation plagued by civil strife and widespread corruption. The core dispute is whether Newmont's Minahasa Mine discharged so much mine waste into Buyat Bay that it damaged villagers' health. A World Health Organization study said the wastes didn't harm public health, a court said the detention of Newmont executives was illegal, and villagers who filed a $543 million suit agreed to drop the case.

But should Newmont have deposited mine wastes in the bay at all? The company says the practice is the best way to store wastes in places with lots of rain and seismic activity. (The Asian tsunamis didn't affect Newmont's mine, employees or nearby communities.) But undoubtedly, a plan to dump mine wastes in an ocean bay would ignite public outrage in the United States. The company's image took another hit by recent publication of a 2001 report showing that Newmont released mercury into the air in Indonesia.

Based on these facts, Newmont appears to have fallen short of its goal of doing abroad what it would do here at home. But is there a pattern?

In Peru, Newmont's troubles should be seen in context of the country's dysfunctional government and an impoverished native population whose lands have been damaged by past mining and oil exploration by many corporations.

Local residents became alarmed in 2000 when a Newmont contractor spilled mercury. More recently, they feared an expansion of Newmont's Yanacocha mine would shrink and pollute their water supplies. In September, thousands of Peruvians blockaded roads for two weeks and forced Newmont to retreat from its planned mine expansion. It should be noted that such street protests are common in Peru these days.

Still, Newmont admits it made serious mistakes in not building trust with the locals through better communication and outreach. The issue wasn't just environmental protection, but also environmental justice. Again, the company didn't live up to its own standards.

Then there's Turkey, which wants to join the European Union but must demonstrate, among many things, that it enforces environmental laws. Newmont says a local government decree let it open a mine, but the Turkish supreme court shut it down until the company does environmental studies.

A whistleblower alleged that Newmont had operated the mine without the necessary environmental permits. The whistleblower's backers say he has great personal integrity. But Newmont says he's an ex-employee who lost his job, asked for a large severance package and, when Newmont refused to pay him the money, went public with claims about environmental violations.

Still, could Newmont operate a U.S. mine without all its environmental permits? No.

Controversy closer to home

Finally, there's Nevada. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said Newmont's Battle Mountain mine may cause environmental damage for thousands of years and that the eventual cleanup may cost $33.5 million. But last March, The New York Times reported that the U.S. Interior Department permitted the mine, on the condition that Newmont establish a $408,000 trust fund and a $1 million bond. The pact outraged environmentalists. Nevada activists also have accused another Newmont operation, the Lone Tree mine, of discharging toxins into water.

Would either situation be allowed in Colorado? We hope not.

In the Internet age, grassroots organizations even in remote parts of the world can tap into international networks of environmental and social activists. Given the new reality, companies must actively work with communities in order to operate in relative peace. Environmental compliance and social justice no longer are luxuries but key to a global corporation's survival.

In this context, Newmont hasn't fully realized its goal of doing abroad what it would do here. It needs to think afresh about its relationships with the communities where it operates.

Anti Corruption Coalition in Environmental Law Enforcement [1]

Court ruling on executives does not free Newmont Indonesian groups warn the public

WALHI Media Release: Friday, 24 December 2004

Jakarta (Indonesia) - Indonesian groups today warned the public that yesterday's South Jakarta State Court decision (23/12) ruling that the detention of Newmont executives was illegal does not mean Newmont is cleared from charges. The decision merely involved procedural matters while the substance of the case, the alleged pollution of Buyat Bay due to Newmont's mine waste dumping, remains to be heard. Therefore, the on-going civil and criminals cases will proceed as planned.

The Indonesian Anti Corruption Coalition in Environmental Law Enforcement which consists of human rights lawyers and activists from major Indonesian social, human rights, and environmental groups states :

1. The South Jakarta State Court ruling will not stop the on-going criminal and civil lawsuits in the case of the alleged pollution of Buyat Bay by PT Newmont Minahasa Raya. The Jakarta court ruling merely decided on the validity of procedures of arrests and detention of the company's executives as regulated in the Indonesian Criminal Law. The substance of the alleged environmental crime by the company remains unchanged as according to the findings of the government-led Joint Investigation Team on Buyat case. The team confirmed that Buyat Bay is polluted due to the company's mine waste dumping.

2. A call to the Chief of Justice to form an examination team to look into the verdict which has clearly violated existing legal procedures. The implication of the Supreme Court examination will lead to the findings on the quality of the verdict as well as whether the presiding judge followed and complied with the existing laws and regulations. Both aspects may be taken into consideration and influence the judge's career path. This examination is needed to prevent similar "unusual" decision in the future.

3. A call to the Indonesian Attorney General to form a team to investigate the slow-moving process of indictment which enabled PT Newmont Minahasa Raya to file a pre-trial examination request.

4. Urge all judiciary parties/bodies to monitor the law enforcement process of the Buyat Bay/Newmont pollution case in all manners that is transparent, just, and with the highest integrity in light of the many unusual legal process surrounding the case that may threaten objectivity.

On December 8, Newmont Minahasa Raya submitted a request for a pre-trial examination on the action of the Indonesian Police, including the investigation into the alleged pollution of Buyat Bay and the detention of the company's executives.[end]


[1] The Indonesian Anti Corruption Coalition in Environmental Law Enforcement:
Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), Transparency International (TI), Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM), Indonesian Forum for Environment (WALHI-FoE Indonesia), Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW), Community Mining Advocacy Team (TATR), WWF Indonesia, Indonesian Legal Aid Group (PBHI) and Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI)

[2] For legal opinion and comments, the following speakers are available for phone interviews:
1. Mas Achmad Santosa, SH., LL.M (Senior Researcher, ICEL) at mobile: +62-(0)818-183-477
2. Jhonson Panjaitan, SH. (Chair, Indonesian Legal Aid Group/PBHI) at mobile: +62-(0)816-11-11-902
3. Chairil Syah (Lawyer, Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation/YLBHI) at mobile:+62-(0)815-860 33 509

[3] For all English materials, please visit and click "English" on the top menu

For information, call :
Estee (WALHI) at mobile: +62-(0)811-89-53-29 or the WALHI office +62-21-794 1672 / +62-21-791 93 363

Mining Giant Was Warned on Pollution in Indonesia

By Jane Perlez, New York Times

22nd December 2004

Jakarta, Indonesia - An internal company report warned top executives at the Newmont Mining Corporation, the world's largest gold producer, in 2001 that the company was putting tons of toxic mercury vapors into the air in Indonesia. The document, shown to The New York Times by a person close to Newmont, sheds new light on operations at one of the most troubled mines of a Fortune 500 company based in Denver that has drawn the rising ire of environmental groups and local communities over the impact of its operations.

The report adds fuel to charges from Indonesian officials who say they intend to prosecute the company for pollution, as well as accusations by former employees that Newmont willfully flouted environmental safeguards around the globe. In its public statements, Newmont consistently says that it regards American environmental standards as its measure overseas. In a 90-minute interview this month at Newmont headquarters, two top executives denied that the company acted outside American or Indonesian law and that its operations or the mercury harmed local people. But in a 2001 company memorandum, also seen by The Times, Lawrence T. Kurlander, then a senior vice president and chief administrative officer, admonished his senior colleagues that Newmont had "told the world" it upheld American environmental rules abroad, when in fact it did not. He suggested that because of the failure to live up to Newmont's advertised standards, he and his colleagues should forfeit their annual bonuses. The concern, he said, extended to operations in Peru and Uzbekistan, as well as Indonesia. Villagers at Buyat Bay, near the Newmont mine on the northern island of Sulawesi, sued the company for $543 million in August after complaining about dizziness, difficult breathing, tumors and skin diseases, which they say began soon after Newmont started mining in 1996.

Experts consulted on the emissions said they probably posed greater risk to the mine's workers than to the villagers, but agreed that airborne mercury was one of the mining by-product's most toxic forms. Glenn Miller, a professor of environmental science at the University of Nevada and a specialist in mining and mercury, described the totals as "an outrageous amount of mercury to put into the atmosphere."

The report examined by The Times says that some 33 tons of mercury that Indonesian officials say should have been collected and sent to a legal dump for toxic waste were put into the environment over four years. About 17 tons were sent into the air and 16 more tons released into the bay, the audit says. In the interview, the Newmont executives defended the company's operations but did not dispute the mercury totals and acknowledged that they were aware of the emissions even before the findings of what they called a draft report.

"Today I don't think it is under dispute - that 16 and 17," David H. Francisco, executive vice president for operations, said of the totals. "Is there an impact, is it harmful, is it within the accepted limits we have as an industry, that governments have established? Yeah, I think there was an impact. On the other hand, no, it didn't negatively impact on the bay and the people."

The Indonesian minister of the environment, Rachmat Witolear, said that "Newmont was breaking the law" in Indonesia because it lacked a permit, required under a 1997 statute, to put toxic material into the environment. Newmont maintains that it had the permits it needed, but it did not share the audit's findings with the government. The Newmont audit itself classifies the finding on mercury as "significant," meaning that it could pose an "imminent risk" to human health and the environment or result in a violation that could cause a plant closure or loss of permits. The Newmont executives said those warnings were about "potential issues." But the emissions were enough of a real concern that the company went to the trouble of installing a bulky, nearly $10 million pollution- control device known as a scrubber.

As Newmont sought to "optimize gold recovery," the audit said, the device did not work much of the time it was supposed to. The audit says the company also issued its workers badges designed to detect potentially dangerous levels of mercury in the air. But those did not work either, the document says. The report was part of a round of audits initiated by the company to assess global operations after a subcontractor spilled some 330 pounds of mercury in 2000 along a road near a mine in Peru. Hundreds of villagers say they were made sick by the spill in a lawsuit filed against Newmont. The audit of the Peru mine, Yanacocha, also criticized a range of operations and cited violations that were subject to substantial fines, two former employees familiar with the audits said.

The company was forced to call off plans to expand operations in Peru in November after local people angrily protested. In his memorandum dated Jan. 18, 2001, to Wayne W. Murdy, who had just been appointed Newmont's chief executive, Mr. Kurlander wrote of the Peru mine that in December 2000 "we, the senior management team, learned for the first time we do not operate environmentally by U.S. standards."

"Our environment teams are not the ministers of good news," the letter scolded, "they are the guardians of our most treasured asset: our reputation." Mr. Kurlander, who left the company in 2002, continued, "Moreover, there is concern we are not operating at U.S. standards" in Uzbekistan and Indonesia.

Mr. Murdy said in an e-mail to The Times that he did "not have a specific recollection" of the memo, but that the issues described were being discussed by senior management at the time. Bonuses, he said, saw a "significant deduction" after the Peru spill.

Newmont has become the gold industry's leader since the 1990's by rapidly expanding on five continents. Under increased scrutiny since the controversy at Buyat Bay, the company has defended methods that it says are common practice but that critics say have escaped rigorous regulation, even in the United States. Applying Standards In defending the Indonesian operations, David A. Baker, vice president for environmental affairs who was interviewed with Mr. Francisco, said Newmont applied the same standards on mercury emissions here that it would in Nevada. "Those emissions were within the limits that were identified in the Indonesian permitting process and were well within any standard or requirement," Mr. Baker said.

Nevada, the center of American gold mining, has more mercury emissions than any other state and also the most relaxed standards for mercury in the country, said Professor Miller, the mercury specialist. In a lawsuit against the company, two former employees who were dismissed by Newmont leveled similar accusations of disregard for environmental rules at operations in Nevada in 2001. Neither the state nor the Environmental Protection Agency regulates mercury emissions at Nevada mines, except as water pollutants, Professor Miller said. Newmont's Indonesia mine averaged more than four tons of mercury in the air annually, about equal to the largest similar emission at an American mine in Nevada in the late 1990's, he said. But one former Newmont employee familiar with the Indonesian mine's operations said that in 1998, when the mine was at the height of production and the mercury scrubber was often not working, the emissions into the air could have been as much as eight tons or more. Since 2001, Professor Miller said, the E.P.A. has cut emissions at Nevada mines by 40 percent, but he noted that it had done so by relying on voluntary agreements. "Newmont is a good actor in Nevada on mercury," he said. "What they have done in Nevada and what they have done in Indonesia is a world apart."

An American toxicologist, Joe Rodricks, whom Newmont recommended as a mercury specialist, said he had been told by the company that when the scrubber was in operation, emissions at the Indonesian mine met the standards for airborne mercury in Nevada. "My understanding is that the times when they didn't meet the standards was when the scrubber was not working," he said. But he said he did not think the airborne mercury would have harmed local people.

An E.P.A. official who specializes in mercury and who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that if as much as 17 tons of mercury was put in the air over four years by a mine in the United States, the agency would investigate to see what the health effects had been. The hazards of mercury, which are drawing increasing attention in the United States, can range from neurological damage and learning disabilities to skin irritations, and are particularly threatening to children and fetal development. Indonesian officials said they decided to prosecute Newmont based on the findings of a recent government-sponsored study. It found significant levels of mercury and arsenic in the sediment and bottom-feeding organisms at Buyat Bay, indicating that the pollutants had entered the food chain as Newmont deposited some five million tons of mine waste about a half mile off shore over the life of the mine. The villagers at Buyat Bay filed their lawsuit after the death of a baby born with what they described as "deformities."

No autopsy was done on the child, and the cause of the villagers' ailments has not been definitively determined. Newmont vigorously contests the way the samples were analyzed for the government study and says the disposal system it used met American standards. An E.P.A. official said that system was effectively banned in the United States. Charges and Defenses Since the controversy at the bay, the company has been on the defensive. The Denver Post, one of Newmont's hometown newspapers, devoted two days of coverage this month to what it said were "significant environmental failures at Newmont's mines across the globe," including mercury emissions in Indonesia and other breaches in Nevada, Peru and Turkey. After an initial article on the dispute at Buyat Bay appeared in The New York Times in September, Mr. Murdy, the chief executive, called the allegations of pollution "a blatant lie."

This month, he flew to Indonesia but failed to stave off the criminal charges, which involve senior employees. Mr. Witolear, the environment minister, said the police and the prosecutor's office were finalizing the case. It is expected to go to court early next year, he said. Regarding Indonesia, Mr. Francisco, the executive vice president for operations, described the decision to install a mercury scrubber as "an example of Newmont trying to do the right thing." But, the audit said, in 1997 the company processed ore with high mercury content by "roasting" it at high temperatures on 84 days before the scrubber arrived. After it arrived, the audit said, the scrubber did not function on 213 of 310 days in 1998. A major reason for the breakdown, according to the audit, was that the mine operators had increased the heat during the roasting

in order to maximize the recovery of gold. "The mercury scrubber facility does not have the physical ability to handle the entire volume of gases now emitted from the roaster," the Newmont document warned. Pictures with the audit showed filters from the device torn out of the machine and strewn on the ground. Mr. Baker said that the scrubber was operated at the designed temperature, but had been clogged by dust. The company responded to the audit, he said, by fixing the scrubber in mid-2001. That was just weeks before Newmont finished mining. He declined to say who had made the decision to continue operations while the scrubber was not working. "I'm just going to answer it like this," he said, "What we've done at that site was protective of human health and the environment."

Assessing the Costs Two former employees said the decision was made at Denver headquarters to cut costs and maximize gold retrieval at a time when Newmont was saddled with debt and gold prices had reached a nearly 20-year low.

"Decisions come downwards," said one former executive who was intimately familiar with operations at the site. "It's always about cost." Ellen Silbergeld, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and who is directing a mercury study in Latin America, said airborne mercury was particularly dangerous in tropical climates, like that in Indonesia, because it changes more quickly into a form that can enter the food chain. "All forms of mercury are toxic, and mercury vapors are extremely toxic," she said. Newmont executives emphasize that recent tests overseen by the World Health Organization show the villagers do not have Minamata disease, an acute form of methylmercury poisoning named for the fishing village in Japan that suffered one of history's most prominent industrial disasters from mercury waste. But Professor Silbergeld noted: "The criteria for mercury poisoning is not Minamata disease. That's like saying the criteria for heart disease is death."

The specialist from the Minamata Institute, Mineshi Sakamoto, who conducted the tests for the W.H.O., said that while he did not find Minamata disease, he was convinced that the bay was polluted from the mine waste. Newmont finished operations in August. "The environment is completely destroyed, and the people became sick," Mr. Sakamoto said. "But it is very difficult to know the cause of the sicknesses."

Environmentalists urge STD ban

Tony Hotland, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

20th December 2004

Environmentalists have renewed calls for the government to completely ban submarine tailings disposal (STD) in the country, for fear of further pollution, such as that blamed on mining firm PT Newmont Minahasa Raya in Buyat Bay.

STD is one of the core problems exacerbating the condition of Buyat Bay in North Sulawesi, and the waters off Sumbawa island, West Nusa Tenggara, which is home to another Newmont mining site, they argued.

"But even without the Buyat case, STD remains a controversial issue worldwide. And, as I've said before, the method should be banned for a number of reasons, particularly the control factor," former environment minister Sonny Keraf told The Jakarta Post.

STD is the disposal of mine waste in the form of tailings in the ocean, which consist of crushed rock, ore and substances, after most of the sought metals have been extracted.

Sonny, who was the environment minister when Newmont was operating in Buyat, said that both on-land disposal and submarine disposal were acceptable methods so long as the tailings were completely detoxified so that they were under the environmentally safe limit.

"However, there are reasons why it would be better if we used only on-land disposal. For example, control would be much easier, because, on land, we can directly see the effect," he said.

He added that such things as strong currents or winds could spread the tailings and pollute the water, despite the presence of the thermocline.

Masnellyarti Hilman, a member of a joint government team investigating the Buyat Bay pollution case, said one of the reasons why the government was reluctant to ban STD was that it believes the thermocline is able to separate the oxygen under the ocean and prevent the tailings from resurfacing.

But, various studies have shown that tailings could break through the thermocline when upwelling and turbulence occur, particularly in a tropical climate like Indonesia's, she added.

Masnellyarti, from the Office of the State Minister of the Environment, said that in Indonesia, the thermocline is usually located 200 meters to 300 meters below sea level.

"It's safest when the tailings -- if you must use STD -- are disposed of 300 meters below sea level. I don't know why Newmont claimed the layer was 80 meters below sea level (in Buyat Bay)," she said.

Concurring with Sonny, Masnellyarti said the monitoring of STD could cost up to Rp 1 billion (US$111.23 million) for one monitoring expedition using a submarine vessel.

The United States-based Newmont was the first firm to use STD in Indonesia and will soon be followed by five other companies: Australia's Asia Pacific Nickel/BHP in Papua, Canada's Weda Bay Nikel and Ingold in Maluku, Australia's PT Meares Soputan Mining in North Sulawesi and PT Jember Metal and Banyuwangi Minerals in East Java.

STD has been effectively banned in the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Newmont's environmental manager Imelda Adisaputra said it would be unfair to totally ban the use of STD because Indonesia has very complex topographic conditions.

"We chose STD in Buyat because the area is prone to earthquakes and landslides, and located near villages. We were afraid that if we used on-land disposal, we would have to build waste dams on higher ground... What would happen if an earthquake occurred?" she told the Post.

She agreed, however, that tighter monitoring and examinations were necessary before permitting an STD venture, but a total ban would be unrealistic as STD suited certain mining sites more than other methods

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