MAC: Mines and Communities

Newmont did not completely detoxify tailings: Police

Published by MAC on 2004-08-30

Newmont did not completely detoxify tailings: Police

August 30, 2004

Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post/Jakarta

A police investigator said on Sunday that PT Newmont Minahasa Raya had failed to thoroughly detoxify the tailings discharged into Buyat Bay, but he fell short of clearly stating that the mining company was responsible for the health problems in the area.

Comr. Sulistiandriatmoko, a member of the police investigation team, also said that the police would summon the company soon to explain the findings.

"According to our findings they (Newmont) were not able to detoxify their tailings thoroughly," said Sulistiandriatmoko.

He claimed that the material contained high levels of mercury and arsenic, which were later released into the environment.

Sulistiandriatmoko acknowledged, however, that Newmont had been trying to detoxify the tailings, but stated that they had not done it thoroughly.

Government Decrees No. 19/1999 on sea contamination and No. 82/2001 on water management and water contamination control stipulate that it is unlawful to dispose of toxic waste into the environment.

Contacted separately, Palmer Situmorang, Newmont's lawyer, disagreed with the findings by police investigators, and reiterated that his clients were ready to answer any questions.

"We have complied with all government regulations, including with the environmental impact analysis. We have submitted our reports periodically to the State Ministry for the Environment and we have not had any complaints so far from the ministry," Palmer told the Post.

Sulistiandriatmoko said that the police, who conducted their own study of the bay earlier this month, had to finish questioning several experts from various government agencies in the next two weeks before sending a summons letter to Newmont.

He said that police had summoned an expert on heavy metals from the environment ministry, an expert on oceanography from the Indonesian Institute of Science and a marine scientist from the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

"We will ask them about levels of toxic material, the possibility of water from Totok Bay contaminating Buyat Bay and the level of heavy metal in the fish," Sulistiandriatmoko said.

He said that police had to question at least eight more witnesses in the next two weeks to complete the case file before questioning people from Newmont.

Newmont has made headlines since a report surfaced two months ago that fishermen in Buyat bay off of Minahasa, North Sulawsi were suffering from skin diseases that might have been caused by pollution.

The company has been operating in the region since 1996, and will cease production next month.

National Police Chief of Detectives Comr. Gen. Suyitno Landung Sudjono had repeatedly said that the bay had been contaminated after he examined the police laboratory test results.

The police said that their tests showed that the mercury content in the bay measured 5.5 microgram/liter (æ/L), 4 æ/L, and 3.9 æ/L in three samples taken from different locations.

Ministerial Decree No. 51/2004 on seawater pollution was recently passed and stipulates that the maximum legal mercury level is 1 æ/L.

However, Newmont questioned on Thursday the police laboratory test results, saying that they contradicted tests conducted by other institutions.

The company said tests of 390 samples by PT ALS Indonesia showed a mercury level of only 0.055 æ/L, while tests by the State Ministry of the Environment showed a level of 0.059 æ/L and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) from Australia found 0.005 æ/L.

Police are questioning dozens of people as witnesses, but have not named any suspects.

"It is possible that we will declare suspects in the case after questioning experts and people from Newmont," said Sulistiandriatmoko.

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