The pollution of the Watut river is far worse than the Hidden Valley mine owners have admitted and the acidification of the river ‘could be worse than Ok Tedi’ according to environmental experts.
Harmony Gold and Newcrest Mining, the owners of the Hidden Valley mine, have told landowners along the Watut river that problems of vegetation die-back have been caused by higher than expected sedimentation leaking into the river.
But this is not the real story.
What the miners are not telling the landowners is that the over-burden from the mine site which has spilled over from the waste dumps contains high levels of iron pyrites.
This iron pyrite contains sulphur and when the pyrite gets into the river it reacts with water to form an acidic sulfate – basically sulphuric acid.
It is this acidification of the river that has been causing the vegetation die-back and is also killing the fish and other aquatic animals.
Some landowners have also been reporting skin rashes and burns after washing or swimming in the river – classic signs of acidification.
Although Harmony and Newcrest have not admitted the acidification problem they have been quietly pouring large quantities of lime into the river to try and neutralize the acid.
In recent weeks Harmony and Newcrest have also been making small compensation payments to landowners for the loss of gardens from river flooding and at the same time requiring them to sign statutory declarations which could limit their rights to future compensation for the far greater problem of river acidification.
Local MP Sam Basil has been urging the landowners not to sign the declarations and has been taking legal advice on possible action against the mine owners.