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Tolokuma mine operators deny toxic dumping

By Luana Paniu PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, July 11, 2011) – In Papua New Guinea (PNG), a Doctor who conducted tests into the complaints of ill health among people living in Goilala and Mekeo of Central Province said these tests should have been investigated immediately.

The tests carried out were to investigate both health and environmental status of the people living along the Augi-Angabanga river, who had been reported to suffer from various ailments since the operation of the Tolokuma mine in 1993.

[PIR editor’s note: The Tolokuma gold mine, operated by Australian company Emperor Mines Ltd. Is located about 60 miles north of Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea’s Central Province. The company in 2007 denied allegations of toxic dumping in the Angabanga River and of associated toxicity in blood tests of area villagers.]

Former Associate Professor of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at the James Cook University in Australia and a PNG citizen, Dr. Tukutau Taufa, said the illnesses should have been investigated when the mine opened and then continued studies should have ensued annually.

Dr. Taufa said it was difficult to determine the causes of illnesses now because it would have been impossible for the villagers to fully recount what types of food they had eaten or when they had first encountered such medical problems since the mines operations.

He presented a report of his findings last week Sunday to relevant Government Authorities to address the issue and made reference in the report that: "Reliable clinical epidemiological data could have been obtained from the community with appropriate clinical specimens collected for laboratory test to determine the cause. Appropriate control and preventive measures could have been implemented then."

He later told the media that because it had not been addressed, this resulted in a mixture of rumours with facts, which caused new medical and psychological problems in the community at large.

Dr. Taufa presented results of this report to the media and the Petromin officials last week, revealing that those living beside the Angabanga river have nearly 50 per cent and above positive hair mercury compared to those away from the river. He stated that there was poor ventilation with in house cooking in some places which enhanced respiratory and other infectious diseases.

He also pointed out that there was evidence of dengue and Japanese encephalitis outbreaks, which could explain the clinical symptoms described by villagers.

"A symptom of dengue fever is the skin turning yellow," he said, amid initial belief the discharge of tailings in the river had turned the skin yellow before death occurred.

The studies were conducted in eight villages from different river systems; in Mekeo (Oreke, Veifa’a, Gagaifua, Inika, Inawoaea and Oriropetane) and Goilala (Tula and Polomonia).

Other studies were also conducted into the age groups, gender and ethnicity between Goilala and Mekeo villages for blood sugar, malaria blood slides, consumption of substances, education, nutrition, vaccination coverage, HIV/AIDS and the control of hepatitis A and B.

His first recommendation out of 11 others to Petromin was to seriously consider implementing ways and means to reduce water heavy metal levels and at the same time mount further specific studies to identify the source of heavy metals.

The investigation was carried out in 2009.

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