MAC: Mines and Communities

Minister Says Newmont Violated Regulation

Published by MAC on 2004-08-31

Minister Says Newmont Violated Regulation

August 31, 2004


Environment Minister Nabiel Makarim says gold mining company PT Newmont Minahasa Raya (NMR) violated a regulation on hazardous waste disposal at its operations in North Sulawesi province.

The minister on Tuesday (31/8/04) said NMR had disposed of its tailings waste in Buyat Bay, Minahasa regency, without permission from his ministry.

"The conclusion is based on PT NMR's report on its Environment Management Plan and Environment Monitoring Plan, using arsenic, mercury and cyanide as parameters," he was quoted as saying by state news agency Antara.

He said the company could face criminal charges for violating Government Regulation No.18/1999 on the disposal of hazardous waste.

Makarim was speaking in Jakarta to about 40 representatives of various institutions that have been investigating claims that NMR polluted the bay and caused locals to suffer potentially fatal health problems.

The meeting's participants recommended further monitoring of marine life and the health of locals at Buyat Bay.

They also proposed the banning of the disposal of tailings at sea and recommended the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry amend its agreements with Newmont.

Makarim said any efforts to deal with the Buyat Bay pollution must be focused on protecting the people's health and preserving the environment. "We don't want to get mixed up with political considerations or other issues," he said.

NMR, a unit of Denver-based Newmont Mining Corporation, has been accused of dumping lethal amounts of mercury and arsenic in the bay.

Analysts point out that modern multinational mining firms such as Newmont do not use mercury in their operations, whereas the heavy metal is used by tens of thousands of illegal miners across Indonesia.

NMR last week defended its policy of disposing of its treated tailings waste at sea, saying the practice was legally authorized by its Environmental Impact Analysis (Amdal).

The company said the Amdal was based on a thorough environmental impact assessment and was approved by the government. It said the authorization was supplemented by a sub-sea tailings permit signed by former environment minister Sonny Keraf on July 11, 2000. That permit required the submission of an Ecological Risk Assessment (ERA) within six months.

"PT NMR's sub-sea tailing system is fully permitted. PT NMR completed the ERA as requested by the Ministry of Environment and submitted the report to the State Ministry for Environmental Affairs on 11 January 2001 as stipulated in the permit," said NMR lawyer Palmer Situmorang.

The company said it conducts continual monitoring of the tailings placement and has found the environmental impacts are consistent with those predicted in the Amdal and they pose no threat to human health.

"The quality of the waters of Buyat meet or exceed standards for marine biota. PT NMR will continue environmental reclamation, management and monitoring until all success criteria agreed to in Mine Closure Plan are met," it added.

NMR has operated its Messel mine in Minahasa since 1996 and ceased ore mining activities in October 2001 due to depleted reserves within the contract area. Processing of ore from the stockpile is scheduled to end on August 31.

Court Case South Jakarta District Court on Tuesday gave Health Minister Achmad Sujudi one month to reach an out of court settlement with a group of Buyat Bay villagers accusing him of attempting to cover-up the extent of pollution in the area.

"Both the accused and plaintiff are given one month to come to terms through mediation in the first phase of the legal process," presiding judge Sudarjatno was quoted as saying by Antara.

The villagers want the minister to pay them Rp5 trillion (about $545 million) in compensation for illnesses they claim to have contracted as a result of the alleged pollution.

Several conservation and anti-mining groups claim the alleged pollution has caused at least 30 locals to die from Minamata disease - a severe form of mercury poisoning, named after a Japanese bay where the illness was first documented in the 1950s.

But Sujudi has said tests on the villagers showed no signs of Minamata disease. He said there was some mercury poisoning but it was certainly not hazardous.

The non-government organizations remain adamant that NMR is to blame for the deaths and are also attempting to sue the company on behalf of the villagers for Rp5 trillion.

The NGOs accuse Sujudi of a cover-up, alleging he failed to disclose the true extent of the "pollution caused by Newmont".

Discrepancies NMR last week questioned major discrepancies in the results of separate laboratory tests conducted by Indonesian police and international institutions on water and fish samples from Buyat Bay.

Although several government officials have said preliminary investigations and tests showed NMR is not responsible for the health problems suffered by locals, police said their separate tests showed bay is polluted with a high level of heavy metals.

In a press statement issued August 26, NMR the results of independent monitoring demonstrated the waters of Buyat Bay are not polluted by heavy metals.

"This information is on the results of testing and analysis by certified and independent laboratories, not by PT NMR internal testing. The results of those studies show that there is no heavy metal pollution in Buyat Bay. Heavy metal levels, to include mercury, arsenic and cyanide are below the limits for marine biota," said the statement.

NMR lawyer Situmorang said the company had not been officially informed of the results of testing by the police forensic laboratory, but had only seen them in local press reports.

"We cannot attest to the accuracy of press reports on the police forensic laboratory testing. We trust the professionalism of police to handle this case, but if the results as shown in press reports are correct, we must question the results of tests that vary so dramatically from those of certified laboratories. To resolve the apparent differences as shown in this chart, we recommend that a certified laboratory with national and international reputation be hired to conduct testing and evaluation," he said.

According to the data issued by NMR, tests by PT ALS Indonesia showed a mercury level of 0.055 microgram per liter (u/L) in Buyat Bay, while tests by the Environment Ministry showed a level of 0.059 u/L and Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) showed 0.005 u/L.

The three results all indicate mercury levels in Buyat Bay are well below the amount of 1 u/L on seawater pollution standards.

But the tests conducted by police showed mercury levels ranging from 3.9 u/L to 5.5 u/L.

National Police chief General Dai Bachtiar on Friday stood by the results of the tests, saying they were carried out correctly and independently by "experts" from various branches of science.

The government has formed a joint team to investigate the alleged contamination. The team is expected to announce its results in October.

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