MAC/20: Mines and Communities

More than 100 Buyat citizens suffer from Minamata disease

Published by MAC on 2004-07-20

More than 100 Buyat citizens suffer from Minamata disease

Kompas

20 July 2004

A baby dies

Manado, Kompas - It is estimated that more than 100 citizens from Buyat, Ratatotok, South Minahasa District, North Sulawesi Province, suffer from the Minamata Disease, which is suspected to be caused by the heavy metal contamination of arsenic and mercury of Buyat Bay.

Buyat Bay, located approximately 110 kilometers northwest of the city of Manado, is home to the Buyat Bay people and is also the site of the submarine tailings disposal operations of PT Newmont Minahasa Raya (NMR).

On Monday (19/7) in Manado, the director of the North Sulawesi NGO Kelola Rignolda Djamaludin and staff member Lita Mamonto stated that the Minamata Disease is present in Buyat Bay based on research done by a group of doctors at the Sam Ratulangi University in June.

According to Dr. Jein Pangemanan, symptoms of this disease begin with a rash and tremors followed by tumours. The tumours appear on various parts of the bodies of the victims including hands, feet, neck, legs, head and breasts. On average, the victims suffer these symptoms.

The heavy metal contamination is suspected to have caused the death of Andini Lenzun, a five month old baby, in early July, after she experienced a rash, tremors and tumours on her body.

Rignolda stated that the death of Andini is related to the heavy metal contamination since the symptoms the baby suffered before her death were similar to those suffered by the victims of the Minamata Disease. Andini's body was covered with a rash before her death.

Medical check-up

Before dying, Andini went through a check-up by Dr. Sandra Rotty, doctor at the Ratatotok Community Health Center. Dr. Rotty stated that there were skin abnormalities on the victim caused by malnutrition and the conditions were expected to improve after two weeks. "However, Andini died two weeks later," stated Rignolda.

PT NMR's External Manager David Sompie who confirmed the death of Andini, denied that the death was caused by the tailings contamination in Buyat Bay. "When Andini died, there was no medical results that significantly stated that the victim died because of heavy metal contamination," stated David Sompie.

The death of Andini has become the centre of discussion of a number of environmental NGOs in North Sulawesi. They have submitted complaints to the Environment Ministry in Jakarta. Police Chief for North Sulawesi John Lallo stated that the death of Andini is still be investigated by the police. "We are in the middle of an investigation on that case," he stated.

PT NMR claims

According to Rignolda, the death of Andini is being used by various parties to sue the polluter in this case, PT NMR. It is hoped that the government will take a strong stand, without hesitating, regarding this company from the US.

PT NMR has closed its mining area after acknowledging that gold reserves in Ratatotok were diminishing. In 2003, PT NMR submitted a four year mine closure plan request.

Rignolda then added that the contamination in Buyat Bay has been evident for the past three years as PT NMR continues to dump its wastes in Buyat Bay. According to Rignolda, the mercury has accumulated in the aquatic environment (biota and sediment) in various levels. The contamination has spread to radius of 1-2 kilometers in the Buyat waters.

From the research done by environmental experts both in and outside the country, it was found that 95 % of the blood samples taken from Buyat citizens contained arsenic above tolerable health limits while 65 % of blood samples contained mercury above tolerable health limits. (zal)

Trans. Tracy Glynn from original: Kompas Selasa, 20 Juli 2004 , Lebih dari 100 Warga Buyat Menderita Penyakit Minamata

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