Here is one of those reports on mining that infuriates the reader because of incompetent brevity and hints of worse to come: AAP reports re the Tolukuma Gold Mine in Papua New Guinea that the mine “dumps its mining residue into the river system…[but]..blood test data ….from village communities [downstream of the mine]…did not show evidence of anything other than normal ranges of chemical traces within human blood.” The mine management disputes the findings of high toxic heavy metal blood levels by a fellow who says he worked for Australian hospitals, which deny that he worked for them. If you are now as confused as I am, here is the full report:
An Australian mining company has challenged claims of high levels of toxic heavy metals in blood samples from villagers living downstream from a gold mine it runs in Papua New Guinea’s Central Province. PNG newspapers recently reported that a man claiming to be a Sydney-based pathologist, Dr Sylvester Kotapu, had taken blood samples from villagers living along the Auga and Angabanga Rivers and found high levels of lead, arsenic, mercury and cyanide. He urged the PNG government to ensure mining companies installed proper dams for mining residue. The Tolukuma Gold Mine, run by Emperor Mines Ltd, has been operating since 1995, employs more than 800 people and dumps its mining residue into the river system. Kotapu’s report prompted the provincial government to consider taking out a court injunction to halt the mine’s operations. However, Tolukuma has challenged the claims in the report, saying excerpts provided to the media showed a number of “falsehoods, factual errors and illogical deductions”. It said blood test data provided by Kotapu was not taken from village communities as claimed and nor did it show evidence of anything other than normal ranges of chemical traces within human blood. “The report author seems to be deliberately creating a scandal, either for his own benefit, or on behalf of someone else,” said Emperor’s general manager of PNG operations, Brad Sampson. Sampson also questioned Kotapu’s medical credentials and said two Australian hospitals had denied he worked for them.
This report follows hard on the heels of on from 16 March 2007 that reads thus:
Papua New Guinea’s mining department says it will have discussions with the Environment Department and Emperor Mines about the company’s tailing system at Tolukuma Gold Mine. A recent study has found that high levels of toxic metals have been found in the blood samples of people living along rivers in Central Province where the Tolukuma tailings are dumped into. The Australian study was conducted by Dr Sylvester Kotapu who says that locals who wash, drink and fish in the river are at risk of cancer, deformities, infertility and various illnesses. The Acting director of Mining, Ron Gawi, says the government is looking at alternatives to Emperor’s tailing system.
He is reported to have added: “The OK Tedis, the Porgeras and the Tolukumas are from an era which basically did allow the disposal of this kind of waste from the mine, but through proper, stringent monitoring by the Department of Environment and Conservation, and our department. But now the government position basically has said that we won’t allow any more river end disposal (sic).”
From the InfoMine files: The Tolukuma mine is in Papua New Guinea, about 100 km north of the capital of Port Moresby at an elevation of 1 550 m. the mine covers over 9,000 sq km of exploration licenses (11 Exploration Licenses as well as one Mining Lease-104, the Tolokuma mine). The Tolukuma deposit is an epithermal, low sulphidation quartz vein system, notable for its high-grade “bonanza” style mineralisation. Quartz veins average 1 to 2 m in width over a strike length of 1 km. Gold and silver mineralization at Tolukuma occurs in steeply dipping south to south-easterly trending epithermal quartz-adularia veins. The veins occur predominantly within the Pliocene Mount Davidson Volcanics, but in places extend downward to a limited extent into the underlying Jurassic-Lower Cretaceous Kagi Metamorphics. The veins are contained within structures that pass upward from the metamorphic basement into the overlying volcanics. The owners are DRDGOLD Ltd. from South Africa and Emperor Mines Ltd. from Australia.
More information about the mine is available at this link: “Current production, by tonnage, is sourced approximately 93% from underground mining and 7% from open pit mining. The average mining depth at the Tolukuma Mine is 150m below surface or approximately 1,450m above mean sea level. Access to underground workings is via declines. Mining methods vary according to local ground conditions and are generally mechanized cut and fill methods. The metallurgical plant is compact and follows conventional gold extraction technology. It is located on a steep ridge in very mountainous terrain. Ore is trucked to the plant, then milled and treated through a conventional gravity and CIL circuit. The plant consists of a closed circuit semiautogenous mill that at 30 June 2005 is capable of processing 18ktpm.”
Neither the InfoMine source nor the mine’s website mentions waste disposal. No talk of ponds or impoundments. Oxfam reports: “Waste tailings from the gold extraction process at the mine are discharged into the Auga-Angabanga river system, upon which downstream communities rely.” And: “The mine dumps over 160,000 tonnes of mine waste directly into the Auga-Angabanga river system annually. Community members report that sedimentation has increased, causing flash floods and making the river difficult, sometimes impossible, to cross. Community members attribute illnesses and deaths to drinking and washing in the river. They also report that many fish have died, posing a threat to the community’s food security.” More at this link.
You may recall that these are the same folk who recently shut down and then sold the Fiji mine, Vatukoula after staff absenteeism, falling grades, and occupation of the property by the Fiji military who took the government and, no doubt, wanted the mine too. In February 2007, they included this statement in a press release entitled Emperor Pursues Restructure Plan. “Tolukuma has also experienced production issues in the last quarter, following damage to the mill infrastructure at the mine in late November last year. Repairs were effected quickly and were completed in early December with the mine operating since then.”
As always with mines and the environment, this story is fraught with inept-reporting, blog diatribes, and outright lies. The scariest report I found is in the e-National (I cannot discern whence they hail nor what their affiliation.) They use colorful language. Here are snippets:
- Recent scientific studies have confirmed that the Auga and Angabanga rivers are not only polluted physically – they are chemically polluted too.
- Ms Koma said the compliance point along the Auga River at which Tolukuma mine is supposed to meet government regulations on water quality standards seven kilometers downstream from the mine, but does not. She said independent monitoring indicates levels of several pollutants have exceeded the requirements including WHO standards.
- The mines are monitored by both the Mining and Environment and Conservation Departments but not independently. The assessments are commissioned by the mining operator and their reports are not made public.
- The Governor of Central Province, Mr Moroi said he would vigorously pursue an MOA review of Tolukuma Mine Operations to ensure a tailings dam is built and the company pays for the losses of the river communities amongst other immediate measures.
- Dr Allan Marat the MP for Rabaul and the Chairman of the Constitutional and Law Reform Commission described the revelations as a mining genocide. He further described PNG leaders as “dumb and stupid” for allowing mines to operate without a tailings dam.
Dangerous as it is to offer an opinion in such cases, here goes.
First, I hope this story does not degenerate into a fight about the resume of the purported doctor who claims to have worked where they have no record of his employment. If he is no doctor and not what he says he is, then he should be prosecuted for fraud and harrasment. If his “facts” are fudged, he should be hit with the full force of the law. But if he is real and his report correct, then let us deal with it fast and honestly.
Second, I hope this story does not become another dreary litany of politicians accusing one another of veniality and incompetence, however true this may be.
Third, maybe this time around, shareholders in South Africa and Australia will demand some semblance of moral action, responsible mining, sustainable development, call it what you will, it all amounts to the same thing: sane and decent mine operation.
Finally: The pictures I see of the site make me wonder about the wisdom of a tailings impoundment. Sure there is topography there to build an embankment and store tailings. But what of the longer term? This area is sculpted by strong geomorphic forces. How long after the mine closes will so artificial a topographic form last? Not long, I warrant. Maybe this is a case where treated waters from the mine are best allowed to flow down natural water courses and the tailings are dried and placed as underground and open pit backfill.
I look forward to your comments. Please post them below, event though it is a long way to scroll.