Environmental impacts with Tolokuma Gold Mine in PNG

Tolokuma Gold Mine in PNG
The environmental impact issues with Tolukuma Gold Mine in PNG will not dissolve easily even after eight years since hitting the spotlight in 2007.

Pathologist Dr Sylvester Kotapu is questioning why recommendations from his survey released in March 2007 have not been implemented to date.

Dr Kotapu had carried out a survey in 2006 at the request of the Central Provincial Government following reports of unusual illnesses in villages along the Angabaga River.

Confirming suspicions, the study found higher levels of very dangerous chemicals significant to mining activities, which according to preceding studies, the mine was continuously discharging into the river since beginning of operations in 1996.

According to OXFAM in 2004, who also sponsored some studies including the one by Environmental scientist Dr Alan Tingay: "The Angabanga River water is no longer fit to drink, at least 50 people have died from "mysterious" sicknesses, fish have disappeared from some places, mine workers are intimidated from joining trade unions, and effluent polluted with mercury, arsenic and other toxins is dumped in the river to save on treatment costs."

At that time, the mine was owned by South African RDP and managed by the Australian based Emperor Mines, who preferred Riverine Tailings Disposal (RTD) despite the method being outlawed and considered environmentally unfriendly and socially irresponsible.

However, the foreign company blamed the mystery deaths on poor sanitation, respiratory sickness and other common diseases, while the claims of environmental pollution were also largely rejected.

A year after this revelation of dangerous levels of multiple chemicals in human blood, TGM was given to state-owned Petromin PNG Holdings without publicly declaring any purchase amount. The then managing director and CEO of Petromin Joshua Kalinoe commissioned an independent scientific study in June 2008. Lead by Professor Tukatau Taufa, this study was aimed at validating Dr Kotapu’s findings.

Eight years after, Dr Kotapu argues that even though results of the counter study were compiled in August 2008, no appropriate action has taken place since. He says these findings were kept secretive until December 2 this year, on the day of completion of the resale of TGM to the new owner, Asidokona Resources Limited PTE.

He notes while Prof Taufua’s study found a Kairuku village of Oreke with the worst Mercury levels in humans, the report also stated when comparing with a 2003 chemical study results, chemicals are now increasing from then normal levels, therefore implying reasons of recent past (few years) taking place upstream that explains the source of the observed different chemical spices.

"As long as now the counter study report titled An Independent Medical Water Quality and Hydrographic Survey of Mekeo (Angabanga River Area/Goilala Village, Central Province, Papua New Guinea (PNG) June, 2008 fully supports the persistence of high Mercury and Lead in human blood and hair, confirming the 2006 report the recommendations needed to have been implemented from 2008," stressed Dr Kotapu.

He further notes only after Peter Isoaimo, member for Kairuku Hiri, this year persistently on all Parliament Meetings raised the issue of chemical poisoning of his people and the disruption to the rural livelihood arising from the Environment degradation, the mine went up for sale again. "This shifty business and persistent cover up must stop; the Emperor Mines, PNG Government and any other potential owners on the wait list needs to start accepting the facts of the studies.

"For now the real question is why did Petromin and even the Emperor Mines neglect the findings and recommendations of their own study since 2008 – a period of 7-8 years and even with that prior knowledge of unattended environmental health liabilities, swiftly concluded with yet again a sales process?

"It is my utmost recommendation that quite urgently the constructive recommendations of both studies be considered and implemented before more innocent lives are affected, as now this situation appears to be a well-preserved and protected process of genocide on the Fuyuge, Kuni, Mekeos and the Roro speaking people along the Auga-Angabanga River."

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