MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Minamata victims report Newmont, minister to police

Published by MAC on 2004-07-21

Minamata victims report Newmont, minister to police

Abdul Khalik and Jongker Rumteh, Jakarta Post

21st July 2004

Jakarta/Manado - Villagers of Minahasa regency, North Sulawesi, reported U.S.-based PT Newmont Minahasa Raya and the minister of health to the National Police on Tuesday for the spread of suspected Minamata disease, which has allegedly killed 30 people since 1996.

Ratatotok villagers, accompanied by local doctor Jane Pangemanan, said Newmont had dumped industrial waste containing hazardous chemicals, including arsenic and mercury, into Buyat Bay for the last eight years.

"We have reported Newmont because they have dumped their waste to the bay, which caused almost all local villagers to suffer a strange disease with symptoms similar to Minamata disease," Jane said.

At least 30 people, including an infant, died from the disease, contracted from water and fish taken from the contaminated bay, according to Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) in North Sulawesi.

Jane confirmed the report, saying that out of the 74 families in Ratatotok, 80 percent had been infected with Minamata disease, and others had suffered migraines, muscular aches and cancer.

"Many of them have lost their infants, while others have had babies affected in uterus," Jane told journalists after filing the police report.

She said laboratory tests she had conducted showed most villagers suffering the various ailments had high levels of heavy metal in the bloodstream.

Four Minahasa villagers -- Masna Stirman, Rasid Rahmad, Jufria Ratubane and Sintia Mandeon -- said they became ill after using water from the contaminated bay, where they had swum and fished for years.

They said each of them contracted different illnesses caused by the pollution.

"My one-year-old baby, Kris, has a skin irritation on both shoulders. It is getting worse every day. The disease has simply destroyed his arms," said Jufria, showing Kris' red, blotchy shoulders.

Rasid said he had developed a melanoma on his neck, while Masna said she lost her daughter Andini at the age of five months.

"Every day, I suffer unbearable migraines, while the melanoma is getting bigger by the day," Rasid said.

Walhi North Sulawesi chairman Berti Pesik said the forum had undertaken research from 2001 to 2003 around Buyat Bay, where Newmont is located.

"Our research showed that the water here contains arsenic and mercury, which can cause death. We submitted the results to the local administration and Newmont, but they ignored it," he told The Jakarta Post.

Minamata disease, which was discovered in May 1956 and named after its place of discovery on a Japanese island, is one of the first and most serious diseases found to have been caused by environmental contamination from industrial waste.

Methylmercury (MeHg) contained in the waste contaminated marine life in the surrounding waters and poisoning those who ingested the affected fish and shellfish.

Newmont dismissed the accusations on Tuesday, saying the company had operated in compliance with the highest environmental standards.

"It is not true that our operations at Buyat Bay caused health problems among the local community. PT Newmont operates in full compliance with Indonesian and U.S. environmental standards, and is committed to environmental stewardship and community development," said Newmont president director Richard Ness in a press statement.

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