MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Cyanide poisoning kills fish at Misima

Published by MAC on 2004-08-11


News of a cyanide leak from Placer's Misima gold mine doesn't come as a surprise to those who live and work in the South Pacific. In November 1998 there was a similar spill at the Gold Ridge mine in the Solomon Islands. Both the government and Australian company Ross denied that cyanide could leak into the Tinahula River, claiming it was simply de-oxygenated water - until pictures were published in a national newspaper.

Cyanide poisoning kills fish at Misima

The National, Papua New Guinea

11 August 04

A Large quantity of fish have been found dead over the weekend from cyanide poisoning in the Misima waters in Milne Bay province where the tailings pipe from the Misima Mine enters the sea.

Both the landowners in the area and the Misima Mine management have confirmed that the fish died from poisoning from the cyanide discharge from the now closed mine.

But while the mine management said the damage has been limited, with only 35 fish killed, and the matter being investigated, landowners claim a "breach" in the discharge procedure led to a high level of cyanide being discharged, killing a large quantity of fish found in both shallow and deep waters.

Angry landowners and local government leaders, in collaboration with Misima mine workers, plan to stage a protest march today to express their anger and frustration at the management and the apparent lack of an urgent response to the disaster by the departments of Mining and Environment and Conservation.

They also warned that they would take legal action against the mine operators and the PNG government in the PNG courts and in Australia.

Landowners said on Saturday morning, they were shocked to see that the entire Port Maika area, where the tailings pipe enter the sea, was filled with dead fish.

They said they knew straight away that a cyanide spill at the mine had caused their death.

They said landowners watched as "expatriate workers" from the mine worked frantically to collect the dead fish, which included pelagic and deep-water fish. Even sharks that were feeding on the dead fish also died.

They alleged that the mineworkers burnt most of the dead fish and kept only "a sample of 40" fish.

But the Misima Mines Operations Manager Frazer Bourchier denied this, saying in a preliminary report that only 35 fish were killed.

Mr Bourchier said the fish killed showed haemorrhaging in the liver, diaphragms broken, eyeballs bulging from socket, and their insides inverted into their mouth.

He said on Saturday, the mine was in the process of doing their second flush on the last remaining sodium cyanide with 450m3/hr seawater before discharge down the tailings line when the dead fish were noticed.

"It seems coincidental that the dead fish were noticed immediately upon conclusion of this activity," he said.

He said the Mine estimate that the cyanide concentration in the mixing tank was as high as 200ppm, but reduced to around 15ppm at final flushing.


Placer to be scrutinised

Post Courier - Weekend Edition

13-15th August, 2004

The Government will not hesitate to hold the operator of Misima Mines Placer Dome responsible for environmental pollution on Misima Island. But the National Government will have to wait for the outcome of an investigative report being carried out by officers from the Department of Mining and the Department of Environment and Conservation.

Mining Minister Sam Akoitai said yesterday if the investigation results showed Placer Dome was careless in cleaning tanks that contained the chemical cyanide and drained the water into the sea, the company would be held responsible for its actions.

Preliminary reports say fish in Misima Island waters started dying after Misima Mine Limited workers started cleaning cyanide storage tanks.

It is understood the company has been ordered to stop cleaning the tanks so the actual cause of the fish deaths could be established.

Mr Akoitai said he was treating the matter as very serious and he would wait for results from his investigation team.

Our officers will be based to properly establish the cause of why the fish are dying, Mr Akoitai said.

We will keep the public informed of what the investigation team is doing. He said in the meantime the people on Misima Island had been advised not to eat any dead fish.

If we see that from the final investigation report that Placer Dome is responsible then we will hold the company responsible for environmental damage, he said.

But that will not be the case until we see the results by our investigation team.

Placer Dome is also carrying out its own investigations into the incident, saying they had also co-operated with the Government investigation team by flying down its own investigation teams.

The company has sent its samples of dead fish and sea water to Brisbane, Australia for further analysis.

Placer Dome is now in the clearing and cleaning stages of its Misima Mine after the mine ceased commercial operation in May.


Whale dies near mine

The Post-Courier (Papua New Guinea)

31 August 2004

The death of a whale close to the Misima mine site has further triggered Misima people’s concern over the flushing and discharge of sodium cyanide down the tailings line.

The whale was found dead at the Misima mine’s Lagua Camp near the Galbobo village last Friday. Environment and Conservation Minister William Duma had ordered technical officers two weeks ago to check on reports that 35 dead fish had surfaced near the tailings line.

Last week, Mr Duma released preliminary findings of the investigations, stating the authorised environmental officers were not present as required under the Misima mine’s closure plan when the incident happened.

The report showed proper reporting procedures were not followed prior to the flushing and discharge of the sodium cyanide. He said the compensation payment of K23,000 by the Misima Mines Ltd to the local people amounted to admittance of fault and liability. Misima Towoho Slung Association chairman Stanley Nigu said in a statement that the payment of K23,000 to communities for the damage done by the Misima mines showed disrespect.

“The Misima Mine Limited has shown contempt and disrespect to the island communities by paying only K23,000 to limited communities,” says Mr Nigu. He said the payment had been made without allowing for time for the damages to be assessed to determine the present and future effects it would have on the lives of the people.

Mr Nigu is alleging that the whale’s death is due to the sodium cyanide spill and called on the Environment and Conservation Minister and his Secretary to charge the mining company and compensate the island communities.

A landowner leader said the compensation level should not be in thousands of kina but in hundreds of thousands of kina.

“The company must sit down with the leaders of Misima and the province as required and agree to a more appropriate level of compensation that will take care of the effects of the future,” he said.

Mr Nigu said on behalf of the landowners of the Special Mining Lease and Mining Lease areas that Misima mine should not be allowed to leave the mine until it had completely satisfied its obligations.

“That is the obligation under the agreement that was entered with the National Government, the mine closure plan and its obligations under PNG laws and international conventions,” Mr Nigu said.

 

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