MAC: Mines and Communities

Marinduque sues big Canadian mining company in Las Vegas

Published by MAC on 2005-03-15
Marinduque sues big Canadian mining company in Las Vegas
First posted 03:23am (Mla time) Oct 06, 2005
By
Inquirer News Service

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The Marinduque provincial government has filed a lawsuit in Nevada accusing Canadian mining giant Placer Dome Inc. of damaging the environment and health of residents of an island in Southern Tagalog nine years ago.

"They should and must answer for what they have done," Marinduque Governor Carmencita Reyes said Tuesday in announcing that the lawsuit had been filed in Clark County District Court.

Placer Dome spokesperson Gayle Stewart in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, said the company had not been served with the claim and could not immediately comment.

Reyes and Walter "Skip" Scott Jr., a Dallas-based lawyer representing Marinduque in the case, blamed Placer Dome for an environmental accident that sent millions of tons of open-pit copper mine waste down a river to the provincial capital of Boac in March 1996.

Placer Dome is one of the world's largest gold mining companies, with 13,000 employees and interests in 16 mining operations in seven countries, according to its website.

Scott and Patrick Byrne, the Las Vegas lawyer who filed the case, called Nevada state courts an appropriate venue to seek damages and restitution because Placer Dome operated three gold mines in northern Nevada. The lawsuit does not specify a dollar amount.

Lawyers for Marinduque said they didn't believe they could get a fair hearing in Canada and the lawsuit couldn't be filed in the Philippines because Placer Dome no longer did business there.

"They are generally amenable to sue here in Nevada," Scott said.

The Marinduque mine, operated by Placer Dome partner Marcopper Mining Corp. of the Philippines, was closed by the Philippine government after the mining dam failed in 1996.

Placer Dome cut ties to the Philippines the following year after 33 years of mining on the island. The cleanup was left to Philippine subsidiaries that Reyes and Scott said did a poor job protecting residents from the ill effects of tainted air, land and water.

Pleas ignored

"They have disappeared. They have ignored our plea," Reyes said of Placer Dome, describing what she called "unspeakable poverty and devastation" on an island that she said used to be a peaceful tropical paradise where people still lived in bamboo and palm-thatched huts.

She said 217,000 people lived in the province. Most live on Marinduque, an island of about 1,536 sq km -- slightly smaller than the Hawaiian island of Maui.

The lawsuit alleges that forests, river basins and coral reefs have been smothered by hundreds of millions of tons of pulverized mining waste rock and toxic tailings laden with arsenic, cadmium, lead, manganese, nickel and sulfate.

Citing a Placer Dome report in March 2005, Stewart pointed out that the Canadian mining company had only a 40-percent interest in Marcopper and was thus spared by Philippine law from the full responsibilities of a majority shareholder.

The report said no one died due to flooding, and that company subsidiaries voluntarily contained the damage and compensated affected people. They also built roads, clinics and shelters, paid for an electricity system on the island, dredged the river affected by the spill and monitored groundwater for contamination.

No detectable acute health effects had been traced to the presence of tailings in the river, the Placer Dome report said.

The lawsuit filed against Placer Dome is similar to the troubles confronting another multinational mining company. Newmont Mining Corp. faces criminal charges in Indonesia where American Richard Ness, who directs the Denver-based company's local subsidiary, faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $68,000 if convicted of dumping mercury and arsenic-laced pollutants into an Indonesian bay.

Rehabilitation

Notwithstanding the filing of the lawsuit against Placer Dome, the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources is planning to undertake in the first quarter of next year the rehabilitation of the San Antonio mine that had been abandoned by Marcopper.

This month, the DENR and Marcopper are scheduled to identify structures in the San Antonio mine site that badly need repairs.

Environment Undersecretary Rado Dimalibot, who oversees the DENR's initiatives for responsible mining, said the mine site needed to be surveyed after Marcopper raised some contentious points in a US Geological Survey (USGS) report, which was commissioned by the Philippine government last year.

The rehabilitation of Marcopper's mine will be based on the USGS study, titled "Marinduque Environmental and Health Study."

The San Antonio mine was jointly operated by Marcopper and Placer Dome from 1975 to 1996. Mining operations stopped after a dam holding 4 million cubic meters of mine tailings broke in March 1996.

An estimated 1.6 million cubic meters of mine tailings spilled into the Boac and Makulapnit Rivers. About 295,000 cubic meters of toxic tailings remain in the two rivers, according to the DENR.

"The Marinduque mining project cannot start until after the remediation, which could take about two years," Dimalibot told the Inquirer yesterday.

Priority mine site

The San Antonio mine, which has a potential revenue of P300 million based on a required investment of P100 million, is one of the Philippine government's 23 priority mining sites.

Aside from Marcopper itself, at least four firms have expressed interest in operating the San Antonio mine. But the DENR has put off awarding rights to operate the mine to any of the firms until after Marcopper has completed a cleanup of the damaged areas.

"This is the responsibility of Marcopper, and they should be the one to do the remediation," Dimalibot said.

The government has threatened to take over the San Antonio copper project if Marcopper doesn't finish the cleanup job.

No money for cleanup

Placer Dome has insisted that it had left $13 million with Marcopper for the cleanup of the Boac River, but Marcopper maintains it has no money for the river's rehabilitation.

While Marcopper and Placer Dome have acknowledged responsibility for the mine spill in the Boac River, the mining partners have refused to take responsibility for a similar mine spill in the Mogpog River in 1993 and the dumping of toxic tailings into Calancan Bay, a major source of livelihood for the fishing communities in Marinduque, since 1975.

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