Gold Ridge mine: Toxic tailings dam on the brink of overflow; environmentalists fear mass contamination

The Gold Ridge tailings dam is on the brink of overflow, with experts worried government inaction may prove disastrous.

The Gold Ridge tailings dam is on the brink of overflow, with experts worried government inaction may prove disastrous.

Michael Walsh | ABC News

As heavy rain continues to fall in the Solomon Islands following Tropical Cyclone Raquel last week, fears the Gold Ridge mine’s toxic tailings dam will overflow are starting to intensify.

The local government declared the area a disaster zone, but experts fear hardly enough precautions are being taken to prevent looming disaster to surrounding communities.

The Gold Ridge tailings dam contains millions of tonnes of hazardous chemicals like cyanide and arsenic, and was purportedly not designed to accommodate overstrain.

An overflow would heavily contaminate the water supplies for the many people living downstream from the site whose livelihood depends on the same water supply..

The damn now sits at 20 centimetres below maximum capacity.

Lawrence Makili, the Earth Island Institute’s Solomon Islands director, said while some landowners were aware of the rising situation, the majority were not even aware anything was happening or the danger they potentially faced.

“Only those who are aware of the risk or the dangers of what is going to happen are preparing at the moment,” Mr Makili said.

He said the majority of those living around the mining dam were rural and farming communities who live directly off of the same systems of water.

A mass contamination would be catastrophic, and as of yet, there has been no major precautions taken outside of the announcement that the dam might overflow.

Australian miner Saint Barbara sold off the mine to the Gold Ridge company in May, after production was suspended for over a year in the midst of disputes over rejected recommendations that the polluted water needs to be released.

Part of the handover deal entailed that contamination issues would be dealt with, but Mr Maliki said nothing has been done since.

“Nothing as such is happening at the moment,” he said, adding that no experts had been sent to the site to perform assessments, create awareness, or put evacuation plans in place.

Due to independent campaigning, a few farmers have relocated, he said, but those people constitute a minority.

While Mr Maliki fears that government inaction might be due to a lack of means, he maintains that given the direness of situation, the government could, and must do more.

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Filed under Environmental impact, Solomon Islands

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