MAC: Mines and Communities

CAA-Oxfam Ombudsman Mining Report

Published by MAC on 2003-09-24

CAA-Oxfam Australia recently released its annual Ombudman's report on mining. This covers community issues around the Didipio and Marinduque mines (Philippines), Tolukuma (Papua New Guinea/PNG), Tintaya and the Tintaya-Hinipampa talings dam (Peru) and Indo Muro, Kelian and Gag Island (Indonesia). (please note this is a large file to download)

In an interview with Radio Australia Richard Johnson, the PNG divisional director for DRD (the South African-based manager of the Tolukuma mine) has declared "quite outrageous", allegations that villagers downstream have died or suffered ill health as a result of its operations. The implication is that these accusations were made by CAA-Oxfam. In fact CAA did not do so; it reported local peoples' claims that the mine is responsble for deaths and ill-health, and called for independent analyses of heavy metals contamination and the prevalence of disease. The PNG government is supposed to have carried out its own health study in March but the results have not been published. CAA does call on DRD to stop riverine discharges, a move the company rejects.

Mr Johnson says that "the reason for us supporting this particular [government] investigation was really to show that the illnesses as such were not related to the mining operations upstream." - rather than himself calling for an open and independent study.

PNG: Management maintain its not responsible for miners deaths

Radio Australia

24 September 03

Management at the Tolukuma Gold Mine in Papua New Guinea has rejected allegations it could be responsible for 19 unexplained deaths downstream from its mine. The Mining Ombudsman of NGO Oxfam/Community Aid Abroad has called for an independent inquiry into the deaths, and has raised questions about other health problems affecting areas near Tolukuma.The Tolukuma mine is owned by South African mining giant, Durban Roodeport Deep, or D-R-D.

Presenter/Interviewer: Jemima Garrett

Speakers: Richard Johnson, Australiasian Divisional Director for Durban Roodeport Deep, owner of the Tolukuma gold mine in PNG's Central Province.

JOHNSON: The allegation itself we think is quite outrageous. Secondly, when the allegation was made it was made towards the end of last year, in October or November last year. Our response to it was firstly one of great concern because these are people who are in communities close to the mine and so on and so we in fact worked with governments, specifically the Department of Mines and the Department of Environment and Conservation and the provincial health departments. They requested themselves a health study into these allegations and so we offered to provide logistical support to that study, but at the same time to stand back from it, because we didn't want to be seen to be part of the people who were driving it.

GARRETT: And what was the outcome of that report?

JOHNSON: The outcome of that. It hasn't been published as yet. We are talking to the Department of Environment who are managing that process and I understand that the report will be made public certainly within the next couple of weeks. I don't know why there have been so many delays on their part in actually putting it on the table, because this study was conducted, the investigation was conducted back in March of this year.

GARRETT: There have been a number of health complaints by people living downstream from Tolokuma. In particular, they say that since the tailings started to go into the river, people are developing yellow feet, sores on their bodies. What's your response to that?

JOHNSON: Well, our response is that the area itself is prone to various illnesses and so on and the reason for us supporting this particular investigation was really to show that the illnesses as such were not related to the mining operations upstream.

GARRETT: Goldmining does use dangerous chemicals. What sort of monitoring do you do to check on the pollution in the tailings?

JOHNSON: Well firstly, before the tailings are discharged into the river, they go through what we call a detox circuit, where we breakdown any of the dangerous chemicals and more specifically cyanide, and before we can discharge it into the river we have to be below certain compliance levels for cyanide and we monitor that on a continuous basis and daily basis. In addition to that, we have daily monitoring of possible base metals that may be in solution that are being discharged into the river and then on a monthly basis, we have sampling at a specific point in the river that is designated by the department, and those samples are sent off to an independent laboratory and we report on those samples on a regular basis.

GARRETT: Now OXFAM is demanding an end to the discharge of tailings into the Auga River. Would a tailings dam control pollution better than the system you've got going at the moment?

JOHNSON: Hum, Jemima I believe not in the sense that from an engineering and practical point of view the practicality of building a tailings dam in this environment is very difficult. The very high rainfall for one and the extreme terrain for the second means that you run the risk of a potential failure of a high risk of potential failure of any type of containment that you might build and hence the Riverine discharge and hence our regular monitoring of the conditions in the river.

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