LANDOWNERS CALL THE COMPANY THAT CAUSED PNG CYANIDE SPILL

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"IRRESPONSIBLE"

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 27, 2000 – The National)---Landowners living in the vicinity of the cyanide spill area of Dilava and Ialoge in the Goilala district of Central province say the operator of the Tolukuma mine has demonstrated lack of responsibility in the past.

They say there have been incidences of fuel drums and parts for heavy machinery falling out of helicopters into the Dilava valley and nearly killing villagers there.

Dilava Yaloga Landowners Association Chairman Daniel Mona said safety standards in airlifting such dangerous material must be investigated.

"This is not the first time this has happened," he said.

Mr. Mona said the chemical spill may have occurred 12 kilometers (7 miles) away from Yaloga village, but the Yaloga River runs past heavily populated areas, such as Inaina village near the Doa plantation, where there are more than 350 inhabitants.

Further downstream, there is Gabadi village, which relies heavily on the Yaloga River for water supply.

There are also over 1,000 people who live further down in the coastal villages of Pinu, Mr. Mona added.

He urged the Department of Environment and Conservation to conduct its own investigations into the cyanide drop instead of replying on second-hand information given by the mining company.

Dome Resources Managing Director Michael Silver defended Tolukuma Gold Mines, saying it had been a responsible company.

He said in the past six years of the mine operations, 25,000 tons of cargo had been airlifted in over 5,000 individual aircraft movements.

Out of that, there have so far been only two incidents: the current cyanide spill and some excavator parts, which fell out of a helicopter three-and-a-half years ago.

Mr. Silver denied that any fuel drums have been lost.

 

VILLAGERS URGED NOT TO DRINK YALOGA RIVER WATER

By Harlyne Joku

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 27, 2000 – The National)---Environment and Conservation Minister Herowa Agiwa has warned villagers living downstream of the Yaloga River, where some cyanide contamination has occurred, not to drink the water from the river although they could use it for "recreational purposes."

Following a briefing by his technical officers, he told reporters the officers had collected four water samples in the area for testing and had found some levels of sodium cyanide content, which was reportedly well below PNG regulatory standards.

Mr. Agiwa further stressed that he expected the Tolukuma Gold Mine management to continue providing alternate water supplies to the affected villages.

"I wish to stress to the people of Papua New Guinea, particularly the villagers downstream of the cyanide incident site, that the water in the river is safe to be used only for recreational purposes. I will be releasing another statement after three weeks of monitoring by my department officers," Mr. Agiwa said.

It was the minister's first press conference since the sodium cyanide spill accident last Tuesday, when a one-ton container of sodium cyanide fell from a helicopter 15 kilometers (9 miles) southeast of the mine, owned by Dome Resources. The incident occurred during a routine helicopter cargo run from Veimauri to the mine.

One village, known as Inani, 20 kilometers (12 miles) downstream on the Yaloga River, has a population of over 300. The impact site of the sodium cyanide spill was close to two tributaries that feed the Yaloga.

The environment officers have stated that the actual impact site is very remote and the catchment’s drainage location is at the headwaters, a tributary of the Yaloga River, which feeds the Aroa River, and eventually into Galley Reach on the coast, east of Port Moresby.

"The impact site is adjacent to a creek about 50 miles away," Mr. Agiwa said.

He added that his officers together with senior Tolukuma Gold Mine personnel and experts from Orica conducted the water sampling to test cyanide levels in the river system. They conducted dilution factor measurements at four strategic locations downstream from the impact site.

Mr. Agiwa said initial dilution measurements showed that at Inani village, the dilution factor is 3,000 to 1, which would give cyanide concentration of 0.0003 parts per million (ppm).

"Our PNG regulatory standards on cyanide are 0.005ppm. This is higher than what has been measured at Yaloga River at Inani village. We are fortunate that the volume of water available in the main Yaloga River is very high to dilute any cyanide present," the minister said.

Some initial confusion was caused by his press statement, which said that at the impact site cyanide test readings were less than 0.1ppm, suggesting it might have been 500 times above the safety limit. However, officials later confirmed the actual readings here were 0.001 parts per million or five times less than the danger level.

Mr. Agiwa said at the headwaters, river flow measurements revealed that the 15-20 percent of cyanide lost would now be adequately diluted.

As of Saturday, cyanide-contaminated soil and other debris removed from the impact site have been brought back to the mine where it will be disposed of through the mill.

Water samples are being sent to the National Analytical Laboratory in Lae and to Brisbane (Australia) for analysis. Residual cyanide decontamination at the impact area is continuing.

A press statement from Dome Resources NL, the parent company of Tolukuma Gold Mine, also confirmed that their staff had recovered all the cyanide pellets from the surface of the ground.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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