MAC: Mines and Communities

Newmont, Walhi agree to verify cyanide study

Published by MAC on 2003-06-20

Newmont, Walhi agree to verify cyanide study

By Moch. N. Kurniawan, Jakarta Post

June 20, 2003

Gold mining firm Newmont Minahasa Raya (NMR) and the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) agreed on Thursday to verify the latter's study, which revealed that the cyanide in the mining company's tailings exceeded the safe level set by the government. NMR external relations manager Christian E. David Sompie said that verification by an independent party was important to prove whether Walhi's study was reliable. "It's good development if the study can be verified. We believe that if there is a good intention, there will be a solution," he said, adding that the verification should have been conducted by the now defunct Environmental Impact Management Agency (Bapedal).

Sompie insisted that the volume of cyanide in NMR tailings was still below the level set by the government. He said that as of 2002, free cyanide measured at 0.02 milligrams per liter, while weak acid dissociable cyanide was between 0.2 and 0.48, both below the government limit of 0.5. Cyanide is used to extract gold from crushed ore. Aside from cyanide, mercury can also be used in this process. NMR has operated its gold mine in the North Sulawesi village of Ratatotok in Belang subdistrict, Minahasa regency, since 1996. The mine plans to close its operation later this year, but must monitor its mining closure for the next three years.

Separately, Walhi executive director Longgena Ginting said Walhi was also prepared to verify its study with an independent team. "Verification of our findings from an independent team is what we need. We don't want to see people suffer from health problems and environmental damage after NMR leaves the mine," he said. Walhi announced on Wednesday its study on NMR tailings, reporting that the tailings contained four times the government-allowed level of cyanide, endangering the health of local residents and the surrounding environment.

The study, which was made in June 2001 and in January 2002, also stated that the high levels of cyanide and other chemicals -- mercury, cadmium and arsenic -- in Buyat Bay had reduced the catch of local fishermen. Locals had also begun to suffer health problems, mostly brain damage and spasms, the study said. The study also claimed that NMR's tailings pipeline was prone to leakage, saying that four leaks had occurred in the last seven years.

Commenting on Walhi's study, Sompie raised several questions including on the location where the cyanide was found, the distribution of health problems and the credibility of the laboratory that analyzed Walhi's study. For example, he said, local people could suffer health problems, but it should be further traced to see whether or not the problem was widespread due to NMR's tailings. "I have lived there for about nine years. So far, I found one or two local families who have claimed that they have contracted diseases from the tailings. But most of them didn't claim this," he said.


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