MAC: Mines and Communities


Published by MAC on 2007-08-29


New environmental concern in San Marcos

COPAE, 29 August 2007

A study by COPAE of the various technical reports available on the construction of the Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) of the Marlin Mine, in the north of the San Marcos department, showed that Montana Exploradora de Guatemala S.A., the company operating the mine, intends to release water from the tailings impoundment area into the Cuilco and Quivichil rivers. This is rather worrisome news, because we don't have any guarantee that this water isn't contaminated with high concentrations of chemicals. Currently the water of these rivers is depended upon by thousands of people for drinking water as well as for irrigation and farming. It is worth mentioning that the Cuilco River is one of the main rivers of Western Guatemala and, after crossing the Huehuetenango department, enters into Mexico and merges some 500 further downstream into the Mexican Gulf.

Montana Exploradora mentions in its 2006 Annual Monitoring Report that “The first mining effluent discharge is expected from the TSF late in the 2007 rainy season, or during the rainy season of 2008 […] During discharge events, water quality and flow monitoring will be conducted regularly and reported quarterly to both the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) and the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM).”

Consultant Andrew Robertson, in his 2005 analysis of the Marlin Tailings Dam, also mentions that the tailings impoundment is supposed have the capacity to store tailings and process affected water for the first two years operation. The same report states that “It is intended that the release of water from the impoundment will be regulated to match stream flow in the receiving environment (Riachuelo Quivichil y Río Cuilco), such that [potential contaminant] concentrations in the receiving water is below levels of concern.” However, Montana's Annual Monitoring Report indicates that “The Marlin Mine does not currently have a water treatment plant.”

It is a very alarming situation, because there is no information available - neither from the mining company, nor from the MEM, nor the MARN - about the quantity or chemical make-up of the process affected waters that will be released, nor do we know how much time the tailings water has remained in the impoundment to allow the cyanide compounds to "decompose."

Our preoccupation is also based on the problematic track record of the Canadian transnational Goldcorp, owner of Montana Exploradora and various other mining companies in the American continent, regarding illegal releases and the contamination of water. In 2005, for example, Goldcorp Inc. pleaded guilty to violating the Ontario Water Resources Act in Canada, for (among other charges) having discharged 110,000 cubic meters of tailings effluent to Bruce Channel of Red Lake without a Certificate of Approval. In the same year, Luismin S.A. de C.V., a fully owned Goldcorp Inc. subsidiary operating in Guerrero, Mexico, was fined 85 thousand Mexican pesos (around $8,000 USD) for non-compliance with environmental regulations at the Nukay mine. The company admits to having overtopped the tailings cells, improperly discharged of process solutions containing a high copper concentration, improperly disposed of hazardous materials, and having had permit deficiencies and irregularities. And in June of the present year, the Secretary of Natural Resources and the Environment (SERNA) in Honduras stated that Goldcorp subsidiary Minerales de Entre Mares S.A. de C.V. “has breached the disposition related to the discharge of residual waters into water receptacles, exceeding the permissible cyanide value set in the National Technical Standards for the Discharge of Residual Water.” The company received a fine of one million Lempiras (approximately $55,000 USD).

Because of these unfavourable precedents, the bishops of San Marcos and Huehuetenango, as well as fifteen organizations of the Guatemalan civil society wrote a “Note of Caution” to the Ministry of Energy and Mines and to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. In this letter they demand, on one hand, that Montana Exploradora complies with all national laws regarding environmental protection, and, on the other hand, that all information will be made public regarding Montana's discharge practices at the Marlin mine, as well as the mechanisms of control that have been implemented to avoid contamination of any kind in the rivers close to the mine.

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