MAC/20: Mines and Communities

News of a cyanide leak from Placer's Misima gold mine doesn't come as a surprise to those who live a

Published by MAC on 2004-08-11

News of a cyanide leak from Placer's Misima gold mine doesn't come as a surprise to those who live and work in the South Pacific. In November 1998 there was a similar spill at the Gold Ridge mine in the Solomon Islands. Both the government and Australian company Ross denied that cyanide could leak into the Tinahula River, claiming it was simply de-oxygenated water - until pictures were published in a national newspaper.

Cyanide poisoning kills fish at Misima

The National, Papua New Guinea

11 August 04

A Large quantity of fish have been found dead over the weekend from cyanide poisoning in the Misima waters in Milne Bay province where the tailings pipe from the Misima Mine enters the sea.

Both the landowners in the area and the Misima Mine management have confirmed that the fish died from poisoning from the cyanide discharge from the now closed mine.

But while the mine management said the damage has been limited, with only 35 fish killed, and the matter being investigated, landowners claim a "breach" in the discharge procedure led to a high level of cyanide being discharged, killing a large quantity of fish found in both shallow and deep waters.

Angry landowners and local government leaders, in collaboration with Misima mine workers, plan to stage a protest march today to express their anger and frustration at the management and the apparent lack of an urgent response to the disaster by the departments of Mining and Environment and Conservation.

They also warned that they would take legal action against the mine operators and the PNG government in the PNG courts and in Australia.

Landowners said on Saturday morning, they were shocked to see that the entire Port Maika area, where the tailings pipe enter the sea, was filled with dead fish.

They said they knew straight away that a cyanide spill at the mine had caused their death.

They said landowners watched as "expatriate workers" from the mine worked frantically to collect the dead fish, which included pelagic and deep-water fish. Even sharks that were feeding on the dead fish also died.

They alleged that the mineworkers burnt most of the dead fish and kept only "a sample of 40" fish.

But the Misima Mines Operations Manager Frazer Bourchier denied this, saying in a preliminary report that only 35 fish were killed.

Mr Bourchier said the fish killed showed haemorrhaging in the liver, diaphragms broken, eyeballs bulging from socket, and their insides inverted into their mouth.

He said on Saturday, the mine was in the process of doing their second flush on the last remaining sodium cyanide with 450m3/hr seawater before discharge down the tailings line when the dead fish were noticed.

"It seems coincidental that the dead fish were noticed immediately upon conclusion of this activity," he said.

He said the Mine estimate that the cyanide concentration in the mixing tank was as high as 200ppm, but reduced to around 15ppm at final flushing.

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