Buyat Bay tests show high mercury levels Jakarta PostPublished by MAC on 2004-07-30
Buyat Bay tests show high mercury levels Jakarta Post
July 30, 2004
Abdul Khalik and Fitri Wulandari, Jakarta Post
Jakarta - Water consumed by residents living near Buyat Bay in North Sulawesi, where U.S.-based PT Newmont Minahasa Raya has a mine, contained higher mercury levels than normal, a laboratory test confirmed on Thursday.
However, the test by the School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at the University of Indonesia (MIPA UI) revealed that the mercury content of the water around the bay was far from the sort of levels that could cause Minamata disease, which some locals, aided by NGOs, claimed they were suffering from.
The findings were based on laboratory tests on the blood of four villagers who consumed fish and drinking water from around the bay -- Sri Fika M, Jukria, Masnah and Rasyid Rahmat.
They were among the residents of South Minahasa regency who reported Newmont to the National Police last week for allegedly polluting the bay. The residents claimed they were suffering from Minamata disease.
The tests revealed that the mercury levels in the blood of Sri Fika, Jukria, Masnah and Rasyid Rahmat were 9.51 microns per liter (u/L), 22.50 u/L, 14.90 u/L and 23.90 u/L respectively.
"The test results show that mercury levels in the blood of each of the residents is above the normal level of 8 u/L, while the blood mercury level required for the appearance of Minamata disease is between 200 and 500 u/L," said Dr Budiawan, the head of the MIPA UI's Center for Environmental Safety and Risk Assessment, in a press statement.
As the tests had nothing to say about the sources of mercury in Buyat Bay, Budiawan called for a thorough analysis to determine where the metal came from.
Further analyses were also needed to assess the possibility of other dangerous chemicals, including arsenic, cyanide and manganese, being present in fish and drinking water around the bay.
Earlier this week, State Minister for the Environment Nabiel Makarim declared that mercury levels in Buyat Bay were safe.
The four people who claimed to be suffering from Minamata disease only had skin ailments, he said.
On Wednesday, a group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) submitted a number of scientific reports stating that dangerous concentrations of at least four heavy metals had been present in the bay since 1996.
According to the reports, the mercury level in bay sediment near the PT Newmont tailings pipe outlet in 2004 stood at an upper level of 3.509 -- above the World Health Organization limit.
PT Newmont has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, claiming it has been operating in Indonesian in compliance with the prevailing legislation.
Kadar Wiryanto, a senior environmental manager at Newmont Pacific Nusantara, said he could not comment on the MIPA UI tests.
"We will look into it. Our company will take every allegation seriously," he said after a seminar on the alleged mercury contamination in Buyat Bay on Thursday.
In another development, Imam Hendargo A. Ismoyo, from Nabiel's office, said that the tests conducted by MIPA UI had not measured the levels of methyl mercury in the residents' blood. High levels of methyl mercury were chiefly responsible for Minamata disease.
"To test for methyl mercury, blood samples must be tested either in the United States or Japan," said Imam, who led a government team investigating the case.
He said the government was setting up a joint team to conduct further investigations, consisting of officials from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, the Office of the State Minister for the Environment, and the Technology Assessment and Application Agency (BPPT).
The team would also include experts from the University of Indonesia, Padjajaran University and the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), as well as former environment minister Emil Salim and former health minister Farid Anfasa Moeloek.
Meanwhile, Wan Alkadri, the environmental health director at the health ministry, said his office had asked the Minamata Institute in Japan to help investigate the case.
"We would like to know if it possible for the institute to send some experts here. We also would like to send blood samples to them for (methyl mercury) tests," he said.