MAC: Mines and Communities

Government to send team to check cyanide study on Newmont

Published by MAC on 2003-06-21

Government to send team to check cyanide study on Newmont

By Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post

June 21, 2003

The government will send a team to take tailing samples from gold mining firm Newmont Minahasa Raya (NMR) in Minahasa, North Sulawesi, following a report that cyanide levels in the tailings exceeded the government limit. "We will conduct an independent test next month without any funds from NMR," Imam Hendargo, deputy assistant in charge of environmental impact management at the Office of the State Minister for the Environment, said on Friday.

The team will charter a ship from the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology to conduct the tests on the Newmont tailings. The team will also coordinate with the Regional Environmental Impact Management Agency for the tests. "We have asked permission from NMR to conduct the test and the company has welcomed it," Imam said.

Newmont and the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) agreed on Wednesday to verify the results of a study by the environmental group which stated that cyanide levels in the company's tailings were above government-set levels, causing health and environmental problems. Walhi's study claimed that cyanide levels in the Newmont tailings were four times higher than the government allowed level. Newmont insists its free cyanide is at 0.02 milligrams per liter and weak acid dissociable cyanide at between 0.2 and 0.48 milligrams per liter, both below the government-allowed level of 0.5. The company uses cyanide to extract gold from crushed ore.

Under Law No. 23/1997 on environmental management, a firm that intentionally pollutes the environment can be given various penalties, ranging from a seizure of profits to closure of the company. The government suspended the operation of PT Indorayon Inti Utama in Porsea, North Sumatra, in 1998 due to allegations of environmental damage caused by the company. The company, under the new name of PT Toba Pulp Lestari, resumed operation in March 2002.

Also, Imam said the government and Padjadjaran University would deploy a joint team to examine the tailings of gold and copper mining firm Freeport Indonesia in Papua. "We hope to conduct such tests every year to get independent reports on the tailings of big mining companies," he said. Yanuardi Rasudin, deputy assistant in charge of mining, energy, oil and gas at the state minister's office, said the government wanted to check that the total suspended solid (TSS) in Freeport's tailings did not exceed the minimum allowed level of 400 milligrams per liter. "We are worried that the TSS in Freeport's tailings, which could reach the sea, has surpassed our limit," he said. If it does exceed government-set levels, Freeport would be required to take action to remedy the problem. "Otherwise, the tailings could kill marine flora and fauna," Yanuardi said.

Karliansyah, the deputy assistant in charge of environmental impact assessments, said experts who had evaluated Freeport's Special Environment Assessment (ERA) concluded that the study needed improvement. He said that the assessment must explain in detail the health impact of Freeport's tailings by recording the health of a number of locals over the course of their lives. In its latest ERA, Freeport only took random health samples from the local population, reducing the validity of the assessment. The company also has to carry out more detailed tests on the impact of its tailings on marine flora and fauna, he said.

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