MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Police shut US-owned Polluting Gold Mine in Indonesia Groups condemn 'Reckless' Global Mining Pollut

Published by MAC on 2004-08-13


Police shut US-owned Polluting Gold Mine in Indonesia Groups condemn 'Reckless' Global Mining Pollution Guidelines

August 13, 2004 Contact: Friends of the Earth International, Janneke Bruil +31 6 52 118 998

Washington - Friends of the Earth International welcomed the August 13 decision by Indonesian police to suspend operations at a US-owned mine which dumps mine waste into the ocean, while condemning support for the destructive practice of ocean dumping of mine waste recently expressed by the global lending arm of the World Bank.

Indonesian police decided on August 13 to suspend operations at the Newmont Minahasa Raya gold mine after tests at the police forensic laboratory confirmed scientific studies showing heavy metal pollution attributable to ocean dumping of mine waste into Buyat Bay, North Sulawesi.

Indonesia has been gripped by news of an epidemic of health problems ranging from skin ailments, lumps and nervous system complaints suffered by dozens of Buyat Bay residents.

Since 1996, Newmont has been dumping 2,000 tons of mercury and arsenic-laced mine waste (tailings) into the bay daily through the use of Submarine Tailings Disposal (STD).

"The Buyat Bay pollution disaster shows that instead of benefiting poor communities, mining operations destroy livelihoods and health. So, we do not need the World Bank Group to speak on behalf of developing countries to justify supporting the multinational mining industry," said Longgena Ginting, Director of WALHI-Friends of the Earth Indonesia.

Gold mine waste disposal is also in the news in Papua New Guinea (PNG), where it reportedly caused in the past days fish kills at Canadian mining company Placer Dome's Misima gold mine.

Earlier this week, Misima Islanders were shocked to witness the sea filled with dead fish where the STD mine waste pipe enters the ocean. Mr. Frazer Bourchier, Misima mine manager, confirmed that cyanide was being discharged down the tailings pipe. PNG's The National newspaper reported that "the fish killed showed hemorrhaging in the liver, diaphragms broken, eyeballs bulging from socket, and their insides inverted into the mouth".

Against this disastrous backdrop, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) -- the main lending arm of the World Bank-- recently ignored recommendations in a report on mining and oil investments commissioned by its parent organisation, the World Bank Group.

The rigorous Extractive Industries Review [1] is critical of riverine and ocean disposal of mine waste, however this and other recommendations are ignored in the new IFC draft mining guidelines. The IFC draft states that "deep marine tailings disposal may be considered as a preferred alternative" in certain circumstances, and also refuses to rule out riverine or shallow marine tailings disposal.

The IFC position even ignores the repudiation of destructive dumping practices by mining giants such as BHP Billiton. BHP Billiton walked away from the Ok Tedi mine in PNG after destroying a river system, fisheries and landowners' gardens through riverine disposal of 80,000 tons/day of mine waste.

"BHP Billiton was considering using Submarine Tailings Disposal of mine waste at their Gag Island Nickel project in Indonesia. However, Chairman Don Argus recently wrote and declared BHP-B would not use STD in any of their projects", said Igor O'Neill of the Mineral Policy Institute. "Ok Tedi proved that you can't trade the environment to alleviate poverty. The IFC is out of step with mining industry majors who now reject mine waste dumping," he concluded.

IFC guidelines are important not just because they guide the IFC's lending operations, but because they are treated as a de facto standard by other public and private financiers and export credit agencies. The new draft guideline is the first step in a major overhaul of all of IFC's standards.

"This is not a promising start", said Janneke Bruil of Friends of the Earth International. "The IFC seems out of touch with reality. Reckless dumping of toxic waste in our rivers and seas is irresponsible, outdated, unacceptable and worlds away from its mission to alleviate poverty through sustainable development."

[1] The World Bank Extractive Industries Review was a three-year multi-stakeholder process chaired by eminent person Dr. Emil Salim, which included mining industry participation and numerous regional meetings around the world.

More information on the International Finance Corporation's draft mining guideline: http://www.ifc.org/ifcext/enviro.nsf/Content/DraftMining

More information on Buyat Bay STD pollution: http://www.walhi.or.id/eng/heavymet_buyat

More information on Submarine Tailings Disposal: www.mpi.org.au/std/

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