Concerns About Environmental Contamination At MinePublished by MAC on 2006-07-04
Source: La Prensa
Concerns about environmental contamination at mine
La Prensa (Honduras)
4 July 2006
San Andrés, La Unión, Copán. The recent torrential rains in the west of the country have not only caused the swelling of rivers and waterfalls but have also meant Minerales de Occidente Yamana Gold had to discharge some of its pits into the Lara river.
In correspondence sent to DECA (the government environmental monitoring and control unit), Defomin (the mining department), the local government in Copán and the municipalities of Santa Rosa and La Unión on 8 and 22 of June, the company described its contingency plan to discharge its pit solutions, given the emergency situation.
In the 8 June letter it said that pit 4 would be discharged, assuring that this pit was clean and ready for discharge.
The company explained in writing that in the first seven days of June there had been 255 millimetres of rain, 83% of the average for the whole month of June (normally 306 millimetres in the month). Therefore it was necessary to discharge the pits to prevent a pollution incident.
The company took the step at the suggestion of its technical experts, who informed management of the situation and indicated in point 4 of an internal memo that the quality of water in pit 4 had been assessed by Defomin as having a small margin of non-compliance - 0.0005 mg/l - in arsenic levels, and satisfactory levels of other elements.
This discharge represented the approximately 29 million gallons of treated water contained in the pit. According to the internal memo, this would require approximately 10 days to be emptied, but according to complaints by local residents from San Andrés it was emptied in four days.
Given the intensity of the rain, the company, protected by the contingency plan, stated in a new memo on 22 June that it would be necessary to discharge the solution from both pits 3 and 4. These discharges began on Saturday 24 June.
The local population in San Andrés, La Unión, Copán, had contacted the media alleging that the discharges were contaminating their local environment.
It was clear from a walk along the bank of the Lara river that the pits were being discharged. Two of the tubes for carrying the solution from the lixiviation pits were in the middle of the discharge process - the "treated", according to the company's technical experts - water was flowing into the Lara river.
While the journalist from La Prensa was in the area, mining staff approached and rebuked her. The employee coordinator, Elder Castellanos, told her that the company was telling the truth.
Castellanos referred to an article published in La Prensa on 19 April 2006 that raised concerns about the situation of the communities near the mine.
"You are not telling the truth, it is a lie what you are claiming, go in search of news but don't lies, tell the truth", Castellanos said in a far from courteous tone, openly criticising the media.
Provoked by his words the company employees became aggressive, and filmed on camera the journalists and two of the San Andrés residents who were accompanying them.
In the middle of the ensuing discussion the reporter from La Prensa and another journalist had to call for calm in order to get an informed and technical perspective on the situation. The company's environmental manager, German Padilla, who had previously worked as a technical expert for Defomin, explained: "These pit solutions are not untreated - they have been treated. We did make mistakes in the administrative process but not the technical process. We had recourse to a contingency plan to discharge the pits without authorisation. For this we invited the Rodrigo Humberto Girón, the company's legal counsel, to draw up a legal statement, given the urgency of the matter.
As the environmental manager confirmed, the company had not had authorisation for the discharge from Defomin, because there had not been time to carry out the administrative process for analysing the pit solutions. This process would usually take 15-20 days before the water could be discharged into the river.
On July 11th Yamana Gold sent the following statement to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre in response to the above article:
"Denuncian daño ambiental de minera," La Prensa, 3 julio 2006
"Yamana Gold takes its responsibilities for the environment and employee and community relations very seriously and makes every possible effort to ensure sustainable mining operations. It is our understanding that the characterization of events that took place at Minerales de Occidente Yamana Gold was quite different than described in the La Prensa article dated July 4th, 2006. We are committed to involving our workers and local community representatives in matters relating to health and safety, environment compliance and human rights and relations, and we believe our workers, regulatory organizations and the local communities not only support our efforts, but encourage them. As with all matters such as this one, we have reviewed the matter and continue to do so.
We believe that we acted in a manner that protected the environment from risk. We also believe our employees fully support the actions we took and understand that there was no altercation, although some employees indicated to the journalists that they thought the media was biased as to the company's efforts.
We welcome a more fulsome dialogue on this or any other related matters."