Newmont: Report Heightens Pollution Dispute at Indonesian BayPublished by MAC on 2004-11-09
Report Heightens Pollution Dispute at Indonesian Bay
By Jane Perlez, New York Times
November 9, 2004
Jakarta, Indonesia - A government panel presented a bitterly fought-over report on Monday showing that sediment in the equatorial bay where the world's biggest gold producer, Newmont Mining Corporation, deposited mine waste is polluted with significant levels of arsenic and mercury. But the panel found the water quality met Indonesian standards.
The report, written by more than a dozen technical specialists, found that fish from the bay were laced with enough arsenic to make them dangerous for consumption, particularly for children. It recommended that the Health Ministry "look into arsenic poisoning" by conducting more tests on villagers who have complained of rashes, lumps, breathing difficulties and dizziness. It also said the government should consider moving the villagers from an area it "categorized as possessing high risks for human health."
The findings are the latest of several studies on Buyat Bay, on Sulawesi island, where villagers filed a $543 million lawsuit against Newmont in August, contending that waste, called tailings, from a nearby gold mine had caused serious illnesses, including in the mother of an infant who died, and the ruin of their income from fishing.
Newmont, based in Denver, vigorously denies having polluted the bay and attributes the villagers' illnesses to poor nutrition and sanitation. It disputed many of the report's findings, which were available in draft form last week and were in the document presented Monday to the environment minister, Rachmar Witoelar, and a 12-member steering committee.
The final report, which is expected to be released to the public on Wednesday, was made available to The New York Times by a member of the steering committee.
Asked for comment on the findings, Newmont's vice president for environmental affairs, David A. Baker, issued a statement through a spokesman. "The presence of arsenic in tailings sediment was addressed in the premining environmental impact statement and shown to be of no harm to the environment," it said. "The system has worked as designed, as is confirmed by three previous scientific studies and eight years of monitoring data showing no contamination in the water or fish of Buyat Bay. We believe the scientific data in the government report when released will confirm those facts."
The dispute has created a public furor in Indonesia, resulting in the jailing of five senior Newmont employees, who have since been released. For Newmont, the stakes concern not only the reputation of a mammoth American company with global holdings reported to be larger than England, but also a potential challenge to its operations at a far more valuable gold and copper mine on another Indonesian island, Sumbawa.
Points of Contention
Among the stark disagreements between the findings and Newmont's position was that the arsenic had entered the bottom-feeding organisms, known as benthos, which provide food for fish. The report advised that villagers reduce their consumption of fish from the bay, their primary source of food.
In a telephone interview from Denver on Saturday, Mr. Baker said the arsenic levels were basically irrelevant because the arsenic was a kind that would not dissolve in water and enter the food chain. Newmont said that it disagreed with the way the arsenic and mercury levels in the fish were calculated and that it believed that the benthos were not polluted.
The fish were of a quality "you find any place in the world," Mr. Baker said. "We knew the science and predicted that the tailings would be stable in the environment and will not cause harm to the environment and will not cause harm to humans."
Emil Salim, a former minister of environment who is on the steering committee, disagreed. "This report says 'yes' there is pollution because there is abnormally high arsenic in the sediment, in the benthos, in the fish and in the ground water," he said.
A member of the panel, Hilmi Salim, the coordinator of the center for natural resources at Padjadjaran University, said Newmont was "hiding the dark side and only showing the white side," by emphasizing data that supported its case, particularly on water quality standards, while ignoring data that showed pollution, like those on the sediment.
An independent American hydrogeologist, Robert E. Moran, who advises the mining industry and environmental groups, reviewed the findings at the request of The New York Times. He disputed Mr. Baker's contention that the arsenic was "not biologically available in the food chain."
Bottom-dwellling benthic organisms were capable of consuming contaminants like arsenic even as solid particles, Mr. Moran said.
"By neglecting the sediment, the company chooses to disregard the evidence that potentially toxic concentrations of chemicals, both in solution and as particles, are accumulating on the bottom of Buyat Bay," Mr. Moran said.
A Newmont spokesman, Kasan Mulyono, noted that Indonesia had no guidelines for heavy metals in sediment, therefore "Newmont's focus is not on that subject."
"Newmont has followed the regulations by measuring metals in water," Mr. Mulyono said.
Mr. Salim, the steering committee member, said the specialists who presented the report to the steering committee showed photographs of people from the village, Buyat Pante, with heavy rashes and lumps, and described the symptoms as resembling those from exposure to arsenic.
Residents said an infant from the village died in July, six months after being born covered with lumps and wrinkled skin. The mother was among three villagers who sued Newmont seeking damages with the help of a local legal aid group, Agency for Health Law. The cause of the baby's death remains uncertain, and no autopsy was performed. A doctor who had examined the baby before her death diagnosed her condition as a skin ailment and malnutrition.
Agus Pasaribu, a lawyer with the legal aid group that brought the case on behalf of the villagers, said the two sides were in "mediation" and discussing compensation and treatment for the villagers. A Newmont spokesman confirmed that the two sides were in mediation but, he said, compensation was not being discussed.
A Longstanding Concern
Mr. Witolear, the environment minister, acknowledged he was in a difficult position. "I'd like to maintain my objectivity," he said. "I don't want to be part of throwing investors out of Indonesia, and yet you have to give protection to the victims."
He added that the results of the government panel's study would be handed to prosecutors in Manado, the provincial capital that is home to the mine. Prosecutors there have been determining whether to bring a criminal case against the company.
A prominent human rights lawyer, Mulia Lubis, said in an interview on Friday that he had been retained by Newmont as a legal adviser. He said he had told Richard Ness, the president of Newmont, in Indonesia, to be prepared for a legal fight to clear its name.
Even before the suit was brought, the Indonesian Environment Ministry had been concerned about the levels of arsenic.
In 2000, four years after the Minahasa Raya mine opened, the ministry wrote in an internal memorandum that the arsenic levels in bay fish were "found to be alarming." After drawn out discussions with the company, the ministry demanded in a letter in 2002 that Newmont take immediate steps to improve waste treatment.
A number of documents, including letters and requests from the Environment Ministry to Newmont asking the company to meet standards for a permit to deposit the waste, were released with the report on Monday. Newmont says that it operated with all the permits it needed.
Environmentalists point to the case as an example of the weakness in regulating big multinational companies in a nation that has traditionally welcomed foreign companies to exploit its abundant resources. The report recommended that "the government tighten monitoring of future mining activities."
The findings come on the heels of an announcement on Friday by Newmont. which posted a 12 percent jump in third-quarter profits, that it would not go ahead with the expansion of its gold mine in Peru, saying it had misunderstood the depth of local opposition.
In Indonesia, the mine above Buyat Bay stopped production, as scheduled, in August. But the company's far richer Sumbawa mine, which opened in 1999, is expected to operate for another 15 years, according to company projections.
In a 1997 interview in Forbes magazine, Ronald C. Cambre, then Newmont's chief executive officer, said the mine had the potential to generate $90 million a year in free cash flow for 20 years, based on a gold price of $350 an ounce. Gold prices averaged $403.78 in the third quarter.
According to Newmont's estimates before the Sumbawa mine opened, the company pumps tens of thousands of tons more a day of treated mine waste into the ocean there than it did at Buyat Bay, though farther out to sea and at a greater depth. Both sites use the same system, known as submarine tailing disposal.
According to William Riley, regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency in Seattle, who has written opinions on the system, submarine tailing disposal is effectively banned in the United States under the Clean Water Act.
Newmont maintains that the system is safe and could be used in the United States, under proper conditions and with exemptions from the law, though none have ever been granted. The report presented Monday recommended that Indonesia's government "refrain from issuing licenses for similar activities."
It also found that Newmont had deposited the tailings waste in waters shallower and warmer than it had pledged in its initial environmental impact assessment.
Before opening the mine, Newmont said the waste would be deposited at 82 meters, where, it said, the waste would not move around or be consumed by marine organisms. Newmont says the waste remained in a stable position.
In the telephone interview, Mr. Baker of Newmont said the waste had risen to 70 meters, a variation that he said had been predicted in the premining assessment.
This latest report was used as ammunition by both sides, as have earlier studies of the condition of the bay, including one paid for by Newmont and conducted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization of Australia, a government body known as Csiro.
This latest study was considered to be the most comprehensive and independent, however. The findings came from a broad range of tests on the bay waters, sediment on the bay floor and samples from a variety of fish and the benthos, the bottom-dwelling marine organisms.
The government panel included a Newmont representative along with members of environmental groups, university scientists, and members of the ministries of the environment and mineral resources.
An incomplete version of the study was released last month by the departing Environment Minister, Nabile Makirim. Newmont praised that early version, saying that it represented a "complete vindication" and confirmed that "Newmont has told the truth."
When he released the report, Mr. Makirim said, "If there is no pollution, then there is no polluting."
Masnellyarti Hilman, the chairwoman of the panel and a senior official at the Environment Ministry who has been involved with overseeing Newmont's activities since the 1990's, said Mr. Makirim released the incomplete report without the permission of the panel.
Then, as now, the company focused its statements on the bay waters, rather than the contamination of the sediment. The results of the latest report showed that arsenic levels in the sediment ranged from as low as 2.3 to as high as 666 parts per million. The average was 338 parts per million.
It compared the levels to the standards for other nations in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which define arsenic pollution as 50 to 300 parts per million. For mercury, it said that tests in the "disposal zone also yielded polluted sediment" under Asean standards.
The Newmont-financed Csiro study found arsenic levels in the sediment at two areas near where the mine waste was discharged of 466 and 678 parts per million, said Mr. Moran, the American specialist, after reviewing that report.
Another study, which Newmont said exonerated the company, was conducted under the auspices of the World Health Organization, with the expertise of the Minimata Institute in Japan. A W.H.O. technical adviser, Jan Speets, said the study was mostly intended to see if villagers suffered Minimata disease, which is caused by acute methylmercury poisoning. It found none.
A toxicologist, John Paulus, from Sam Ratulangi University in North Sulawesi, who was a member of the government panel said Monday in an interview that he was dissenting from the latest findings. Mr. Paulus, who was interviewed at the request of Newmont, said that he believed that the point of the study was to deal with Minamata disease and that it had already been discounted.
"There is a clear result from the World Health Organization and the Minimata Institute that the bay is not polluted and that the heavy metals are under the dangerous level," he said.
In a previous interview, Dr. Speets called the survey a "very limited spot check" and "not a scientific way" to determine what was causing the illnesses in the village or whether the bay was polluted. He said that a bigger study was required.
This latest government report addressed that need.
In anticipation of the findings, Newmont undertook a public relations blitz to defend its position, professing its innocence in full page advertisements in Indonesian newspapers. The report recommended that the government ask Newmont to "remove all misleading advertisements in the print and electronic media concerning the quality of the environment around Buyat Bay."
Last week, Newmont told the Security and Exchange Commission that the various studies "all confirm that PTNMR has not polluted the Buyat Bay environment and therefore has not adversely affected the fish in the bay or the health of nearby residents."
Newmont also called a briefing last week for Indonesian journalists to challenge the latest findings. Afterward, an Indonesian employee of The New York Times found an envelope with the Newmont Minahasa logo tucked into her packet of briefing papers with five 50,000 rupiah notes, about $30.
The money, a sizable sum in a city where the average minimum monthly wage is $75, was returned the next day.
Asked what was the purpose of the money, Doug Hock, the director of public affairs for Newmont in Denver said, "We provided transportation reimbursement to national reporters as is customary in Indonesia." In a later e-mail message, he added, "We will refrain from providing it going forward in order to avoid any future misunderstandings."
Buyat Bay is polluted and a risk to the community: Highlights of the joint investigation of Buyat Bay
10th November 2004
WALHI, JATAM, CIEL
The study by the Indonesian government-convened Buyat Bay Joint Investigation Team shows that mine waste (tailings) dumped by Newmont in Buyat Bay poses risks to local people. Read on below, also click here for press release: Buyat Bay Polluted, sanctions recommended against Newmont in Official Buyat Bay Technical Team Report
Top Ten Key Findings:
1. Buyat Bay seabed is polluted with arsenic and mercury.
2. Arsenic and mercury found in Buyat Bay is not natural.
3. Newmont dumping breached toxic waste law.
4. Arsenic and mercury in fish poses unacceptable risk for Buyat Bay community.
5. Mercury is accumulating in seabed creatures of Buyat and Ratatotok Bays.
6. Biodiversity in Buyat Bay hit by arsenic pollution.
7. No protective thermocline despite Newmont claims.
8. Buyat Bay human health hazard requires fish intake reduction and possibly relocation of residents.
9. Buyat Bay human health hazard requires arsenic poisoning investigation and up to 30 years monitoring by Newmont.
10. Legal action should be taken over breaches of environmental law and ocean dumping of mine waste should not be permitted in future. The study by the Buyat Bay Joint Investigation Team is by far the most comprehensive and thorough study ever done on the case. It covers physical, chemical, and biological aspects as well as findings in relation to the environmental quality of the bay and its potential impacts on marine life and human beings. This is unlike previous studies which have only gone as far as looking into water conditions but not properly examined the seabed, resident organisms, etc. The results represent the actual condition of the bay and people living around it as well as the source of pollution. Several of the Joint Study conclusions show that mine waste (tailings) dumped by Newmont in Buyat Bay poses risks to local people.
Those points are:
1. Buyat Bay is polluted with arsenic and mercury according to ASEAN Marine guidelines: Arsenic pollution in the Buyat Bay seabed (sediment) is as high as 666 mg/kg. Buyat Bay is polluted according to the ASEAN Marine Water Quality Criteria for arsenic which ranges from 50 mg/kg and higher for polluted marine sediment. [Walhi notes that Buyat Bay is also polluted according to US, Canadian, Australian and NZ guidelines which share an ecological Probable Effects Level of 42 mg/kg arsenic in marine sediment]. Mercury pollution in the Buyat Bay seabed (sediment) averages over 1000 µg/kg. Buyat Bay is therefore polluted according to the ASEAN Marine Water Quality Criteria for mercury which ranges from 400 µg/kg and higher. [Walhi notes that Buyat Bay is also polluted with mercury according to US, Canadian, Australian and NZ guidelines which share an ecological Probable Effects Level of 696 µg/kg mercury in marine sediment].
2. Arsenic and mercury in Buyat Bay is not natural: The Technical Team results show that levels of total arsenic and mercury on the seabed of Buyat Bay are extremely high compared with natural control sites (i.e. sites not affected by mine waste dumping) and also compared to levels recorded in Buyat Bay before Newmont's mine began. Arsenic levels in Buyat Bay sediment are around 100 times higher than control sites. High levels of arsenic and mercury on the seafloor in the tailings dumping location in Buyat Bay have been previously mentioned in the Indonesian Environment Ministry Study (2003), also in a study by WALHI and Evan Edinger (2004), as well as Newmont's monitoring. From a comparison with pre-mine conditions and control sites it is clear that Newmont's mine waste dumping is the source of arsenic and mercury pollution in Buyat Bay.
3. Newmont dumping breached toxic waste law: In legal terms, Newmont's dumping of mine waste into the ocean has breached the Government Regulation on Dangerous and Toxic Waste Management No. 19 year 1994, and Government Regulations No. 19 year 1999 and No. 85 year 1999.
4. Arsenic and mercury in fish poses unacceptable risk for Buyat Bay fishing community: The Technical Team calculated the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of arsenic in Buyat Bay fish and concluded that Buyat Bay community members' consumption of fish from the Bay exposes them to an unacceptably dangerous level of inorganic arsenic. The Technical Team also calculated the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) of mercury for Buyat Bay community members and concluded that consuming fish from Buyat Bay is risky for adults and exceeds the tolerable level for children. Due to the fact that both arsenic and mercury can be found in fish, then the Buyat Bay community are at risk of being contaminated by mercury and arsenic at the same time. Calculations were based on the International Center for Environmental and Industrial Toxicology's ADI and TDI methodology. This involved analysing fish samples from Buyat Bay and observations of Buyat Bay people's actual fish consumption level of 0.45 kg/day. However if a more conservative value is used for fish consumption, based not on a fishing village population, but the general population's estimated consumption of 50 kg/capita/year, then the level of mercury in fish consumption for children and adults will be within the safe level. [Note: TDI and ADI describe the same concept, but TDI is designed for contaminants such as mercury, while ADI is for contaminants such as arsenic].
5. Mercury is accumulating in seabed creatures of Buyat Bay Creatures living on the seabed (benthos) in Buyat Bay are accumulating mercury from sediment contaminated with Newmont's mine waste. Levels of mercury in these creatures average 1889 µg/kg which is approximately ten times higher than creatures collected from uncontaminated control points.
6. Biodiversity in Buyat Bay hit by arsenic pollution: The Diversity Index for seabed creatures (benthos) and phytoplankton at the tailings dumping location in Buyat Bay shows there is heavy pollution due to arsenic. These benthos and plankton are a crucial part of the human food chain. Explanation: The calculation of diversity index for sea life - plankton and benthos (seabed creatures such as crabs, mussels, worms etc) was used to acquire a description of the health condition of Buyat Bay. From the diversity index for phytoplankton organisms in the tailings dumping point in Buyat Bay, it can be concluded that the Buyat Bay ecosystem is disturbed. The Joint Team results match the findings in the 2002 WALHI study and the 2004 study by the Indonesian Marine and Fisheries Department. Meanwhile, the plankton and benthos diversity index in Ratatotok Bay is within the criteria of light to medium pollution.
There is a consistent connection between the poor diversity index for benthos and the high level of arsenic found in Buyat Bay seabed, as well as between the high diversity index for benthos and the low arsenic pollution level found in Ratatotok Bay. The same pattern was found between the plankton diversity index and the arsenic levels in the sediment of both bays.
7. No protective thermocline despite Newmont claims: Contrary to claims in Newmont's pre-mine Environmental Impact Assessment, the Joint Team there is no thermocline ocean layer. This is an important finding because in Newmont's Environmental Impact Assessment (1994), it was stated a thermocline layer at 50 70 meters depth would function as a barrier to keep tailings from mixing and spreading in Buyat Bay. The conclusion that there is no protective thermocline is in accordance with previous studies an Independent team study (1999), Tailings Feasibility Study (2000), P20 LIPI (2000), and the Indonesian Environment Ministry Study (2003).
Selected Recommendations of the Technical Team:
8. Buyat Bay human health hazard requires fish intake reduction and possibly relocation of residents: From the calculation of Acceptable and Tolerable Daily Intake (ADI and TDI) of heavy metals, the human health Hazard Index (HI) was discovered to be higher than a value of 1.0. This means Buyat Bay is a risk to human health. Therefore, it is recommended that the consumption of fish from Buyat Bay be reduced, and the possibility be considered of relocating the inhabitants of Buyat Bay to a different location.
9. Buyat Bay human health hazard requires arsenic poisoning investigation and up to 30 years monitoring The Technical Team noted that the hazard index data shows an arsenic hazard in Buyat Bay, and further noted that intial observations in the field suggest locals who have fallen ill display symptoms which may match the literature for bodily arsenic accumulation. The Team therefore recommended that follow-up research be conducted by the Health Ministry to look into arsenic poisoning in the residents of Buyat complaining of symptoms such as skin disease, lumps, breathing difficulties and dizziness. It is recommended that samples of urine and nail clippings be taken for further analysis. Since parts of Buyat Bay are categorized as contaminated, and looking also at the biodiversity indexes as well fish data, the study found that the disposal of Newmont's mine waste, which has not occurred beneath a thermocline, has had an impact on sealife in Buyat Bay. The Technical Team thus recommended that Newmont and the government monitor the situation over the next 30 years or until Buyat Bay recovers naturally.
10. Legal action should be taken over breaches of environmental law and ocean dumping of mine waste should not be permitted in future. Legal action should be taken over breaches of environmental law by Newmont and unlicensed miners, and in the light of the Buyat Bay experience, ocean dumping of mine waste should not be permitted in future.
Official Buyat Bay Technical Team Report: Buyat Bay Polluted, sanctions recommended against Newmont
Press release: WALHI, JATAM, CIEL
10 November 2004
Jakarta (Indonesia) - Indonesian community organisations hailed the findings of a government-convened official investigation which has concluded that Buyat Bay is polluted, answering long-running speculation about the impact of Newmont Minings disposal of millions of tons of mine waste into the Bay. On Monday (8/11), the Technical Team presented its complete findings to new Indonesian Environment Minister Mr. Rachmat Witoelar, who officially accepted the findings in their entirety.
The official Technical Team investigation is the most thorough conducted so far. A joint team comprised of stakeholders and experts examined physical, chemical and biological aspects to determine environmental quality and impacts on the local community and sealife.[for details, please see note 2]
The official Technical Team convened by the government possesses strong credibility and accountability, so all stakeholders should accept and respect its findings, including Newmont Mining which has been deceiving the public with relentless propaganda in advertisements, stressed P. Raja Siregar from WALHI Friends of the Earth Indonesia.
The investigation concluded that one of the indicators of pollution in Buyat Bay was the contamination of, and loss of diversity of plankton and seafloor creatures (benthos). Another was the the high concentrations of arsenic and mercury in the Buyat Bay seafloor which is smothered in Newmonts mine waste, and can be classified as contaminated sediment according to international standards.[for details, please see note 1]
Besides this, the Technical Team also found that consuming fish containing arsenic and mercury from Buyat Bay posed a risk for adults and especially children residents of Buyat Bay.
This research clearly shows that Buyat Bay, the site of Newmonts mine waste disposal, is polluted, stated Raja Siregar. Raja added that the investigation found there is no protective thermocline ocean layer above the depth of Newmonts waste pipeline, as claimed by Newmont in its original environmental impact assessment.
The tech teams legal review found sufficient evidence that Newmont has committed several license breaches: firstly a breach of operating license requirements relating to regular reporting; secondly a license violation relating to toxic waste management; thirdly a violation of waste disposal permitting relating to ocean disposal of mine waste, and that violation can be categorised as a criminal act with sanctions in clause 43 of the Environmental Management Act (No.23/1997), explained Executive Director of the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law, Mr. Indro Sugianto.
On account of these breaches, Indro Sugianto urged the government to enforce environmental law in this case. Just as importantly, these acts are considered corporate crimes and must be prosecuted accordingly with sanctions applied according to clause 47 of the Environmental Management Act, specifically by inserting a obligation for a clean-up of Buyat Bay and 30 years of monitoring.
Based on these facts, the technical team recommended that Newmonts ocean disposal of mine waste is illegal therefore legal action is required against Newmont. In addition, based on the precautionary principle ocean disposal of mine waste should be prohibited in future in Indonesia. Finally, the tech team recommended the Buyat Bay community be relocated because the Bay is polluted, the fish are not fit for consumption, the air is in poor condition and even the drinking water supplied by Newmont is not fit for consumption. Indonesian organisations WALHI-FoE Indonesia, JATAM, ELSAM, TAPAL and ICEL urge the government to immediately implement the tech teams recommendations and make the important efforts required to handle this problem. The government must take immediate action because Buyat residents are victims of pollution and cant wait any longer, stressed Siti Maimunah of the Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network. [end] Contact:
P. Raja Siregar (WALHI- Friends of the Earth Indonesia), HP: 0811 15 3349
Siti Maimunah (JATAM- Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network), HP: 0811 920 462
Indro Sugianto (ICEL- Indonesian Center for Environmental Law), HP : 0815 9434 228
Notes for the Editor:
1. Buyat Bay is polluted and a risk to the community, Highlights of the official joint investigation of Buyat Bay, compiled by WALHI- Friends of the Earth Indonesia based on the official report of the technical team, 9 November 2004, available at http://www.walhi.or.id/eng/buyat_team_summary
2. Media Advisory, 31/10/2004: Buyat / Newmont: Experts speak on CSIRO, WHO reports; Govt report due http://www.walhi.or.id/eng/csirowho_mr_311004/ which came with attached briefing: Critique of the 'Buyat Bay' CSIRO Environmental Monitoring study, is available at http://www.walhi.or.id/eng/critique_csiro_311004/
3. WALHI-Friends of the Earth Indonesia, Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM), Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), Advocacy Team for the Defense of Environmental Activists (TAPAL), and the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM)
4. Additional media contacts: a. Amin (JATAM) 021-791 81 683 or 0815 929 0370 b. Estee (WALHI) 021-794 1672 or 0811 89 53 29
5. All English press releases and other materials on the Buyat/Newmont case are available from WALHI-FoE Indonesia website http://www.walhi.or.id/eng/
Newmont Says Peru, Indonesia Pollution Charges Differ
By Heather Draper of Dow Jones Newswires
November 10, 2004
Denver -- Environmental groups have scored two "wins" against Newmont Mining Corp. (NEM) in the last week, but the world's largest gold producer says the two issues are "very different" from each other.
Newmont has been hit by pollution allegations from around the globe in recent months, but the most recent headlines came out of Peru and Indonesia, where Newmont has gold and copper mining operations.
Last week, Newmont decided not to pursue a contentious mine in Peru because of earlier protests there.
This week, a government panel in Indonesia issued a report indicating that Denver-based Newmont's gold mine on the island of Sulawesi polluted the island's Buyat Bay.
Some of the panel's conclusions: Arsenic levels in Buyat Bay sediment are 100 times higher than at control sites where no mining occurred, consumption of fish from the bay poses a risk to humans, and mercury levels in seabed-dwelling organisms in the bay are about 10 times higher than at control sites.
The report this week in part contradicted an earlier report by the World Health Organization that did not find harmful levels of mercury in Buyat Bay.
Newmont spokesman Doug Hock said the company sees the issues in Peru and Indonesia as "separate and very different."
Newmont viewed the Peru protests "as legitimate concerns of the community," Hock said. "The level of concern was greater than we had originally thought."
The company decided that exploration and mining at the Cerro Quilish deposit at Newmont's huge Yanacocha mine site in Peru "couldn't be done under current conditions," he said, so Newmont asked the Peruvian government last Thursday to revoke its exploration permit for the deposit.
Environmentalists heralded the decision.
Carlos Abanto of Friends of the Earth-Peru said in a prepared statement: "Newmont's decision to give up on Quilish was due to major protests from rural and urban people of the Cajamarca region. We hope that this signal is a lesson to improve corporate behavior and help reach the point where mistakes are acknowledged and opinions are respected."
But Newmont Chief Executive Wayne Murdy has called the Indonesia allegations "blatant lies" and faults nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, for the trouble brewing in that part of the world.
"You have some NGOs who have made wild accusations that had the unintended consequence of landing five guys in jail for a month," spokesman Hock said this week.
Five executives from Newmont's Indonesian subsidiary were thrown in a Jakarta jail from mid-September to mid-October on pollution allegations. The men were never formally charged with anything.
Indonesian police released the men, who remain on "city detention," meaning they can't leave the island of Sulawesi where they work.
Indonesian police continue to investigate the pollution charges, Hock said.
Payal Sampat, international program director of Earthworks in Washington, said it's "unfortunate" that Newmont is blaming NGOs for its problems in Indonesia.
"Regardless of what the media spin is, let's get to the bottom of what the issue is," Sampat said. "It's the responsibility of the local government, national government and Newmont to make sure the communities around Buyat Bay are being protected."
The reason Newmont is saying the pollution allegations are different in Peru and Indonesia, Sampat said, is because the Indonesian reports have implications on the company's much-larger Batu Hijau mine on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa.
The Batu Hijau mine also uses what is called "submarine tailings disposal," the controversial method used near Buyat Bay involving dumping treated mine waste into the sea.
Newmont has repeatedly denied that submarine tailings disposal is an unsafe method of mine waste disposal.
"If the fish and water don't have high levels of metal in them, then there's no issue," Hock said, adding that Newmont is continuing to monitor the Buyat Bay water near the Minahasa mine even though it officially stopped all operations there in August.