MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Press Release: June 14, 2001

Published by MAC on 2001-06-14

Press Release: June 14, 2001

Mining Watch Canada * Mineral Policy Center USA * Mineral Policy Institute Australia

Chairperson Quits Over River Pollution at Placer Dome’s Porgera Mine in Papua New Guinea

Environment Groups Renew Call on Placer Dome to Commit to Ending the Practice of Dumping Mine Waste Into Rivers

Yati Bun, Chair of Placer Dome’s Porgera Environmental Advisory Komiti (PEAK) resigned over Placer Dome’s misuse of him in its “propaganda materials” and lack of action in the cleanup of river pollution from the company’s Porgera Mine.

In his resignation letter Mr. Bun sharply criticized Placer Dome for failing to implement recommendations aimed at mitigating the impacts of mine waste disposal into the Strickland River at Placer’s Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea. At the Porgera Mine, Placer Dome dumps mine waste directly into the Strickland River, a practice that is illegal in most developed countries.

Placer Dome has disposed of mine tailings and overburden into the Strickland River system in Papua New Guinea since 1992. After numerous complaints by local villagers and Papua New Guinea environmental groups, and following a 1995 scientific study published by Australia’s Mineral Policy Institute indicating serious environmental problems, the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) conducted a thorough study of the impacts of riverine disposal at the mine managed by Placer Dome.

Placer Dome created a multi-stakeholder committee called PEAK that was to oversee the implementation of the CSIRO recommendations. In his resignation letter PEAK’s most recent Chairman, Yati Bun, accused the company of using him in “propaganda materials” while doing nothing to mitigate the impacts of their disposal on the Strickland River:

“Placer has now had four years to carry out these studies and implement their recommendations, yet nothing has changed from the situation in 1996 when the CSIRO report was started” said Mr Bun's letter.

Bun’s resignation was sparked by Placer’s unauthorized use of his name in publicity materials:

“My conscience cannot tolerate being involved any longer with the PEAK process of expediting the continuation of riverine discharge, as when the history of Porgera is written I do not wish to be the one that oversaw Porgera’s impacts and did nothing” continued Mr Bun's letter. Bun (MSc.) is the highly respected Executive Director of Foundation for People and Community Development in Papua New Guinea.

The 1996 CSIRO report found that: “particulate metals are steadily increasing and may now exceed concentrations that have been shown elsewhere to have long term ecosystem effects.” The report also found that “fish populations in the upper river system have been in decline since 1993.” CSIRO made numerous recommendations including that tailings solids and waste rock be stored on-site.

International groups including Mining Watch Canada, Mineral Policy Center, and Mineral Policy Institute have called on Placer Dome and other mining companies to commit to ending the practice of riverine waste disposal, a practice that can not be justified as environmentally acceptable.

Placer Dome’s use of a major river system in Papua New Guinea to dispose of its mine waste that contains metals and extraction reagents has been controversial since it began.

“Riverine disposal was already an anachronism in 1992” says Dr. Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada,

“Placer Dome knows that they would never have been allowed to do this in Canada, yet Placer Dome refuses to renounce the practice.” Ms. Coumans added:

“Does Placer Dome want to wait until the crisis at the Porgera mine reaches the proportions of Ok Tedi, or will the company take heed of the impending crisis signaled by the resignation of Yati Bun and implement the CSIRO recommendations without further delay?”

Stephen D’Esposito, President of Mineral Policy Center in Washington D.C., called on Placer Dome to address the problems at Porgera and commit to ending the practice of riverine waste disposal.

“Placer Dome claims to follow the same high environmental standards wherever it mines, unfortunately its actions don’t yet match its words. Placer Dome must implement cleanup measures at the Porgera Mine and commit to end this practice in the future” said Mr D'Esposito

“With every passing day the area affected by mine waste dumped by Porgera into the Strickland River grows wider” says Geoff Evans, Director of the Mineral Policy Institute in Sydney, Australia.

Riverwater carrying mine waste now continuously feeds into Lake Murray, the largest freshwater lake in Papua.

“Communities down the length of the Strickland and at Lake Murray are speaking out in anger, and have a right to pure water and fair treatment by Placer”, he concluded.

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