Category Archives: Environmental impact

The world’s most toxic town: the terrible legacy of Zambia’s lead mines

Lead levels in Kabwe are as much as 100 times recommended safety levels. Photograph: Larry C Price for the Guardian

Almost a century of lead mining and smelting has poisoned generations of children in the Copperbelt town of Kabwe in Zambia

Damian Carrington | The Guardian | 28 May 2017

“I’d like to be a doctor,” says seven-year-old Martin, sitting quietly in his modest home in Kabwe, Zambia. But the truth is that Martin struggles with his schoolwork, and his dream seems unlikely to become a reality.

Kabwe is the world’s most toxic town, according to pollution experts, where mass lead poisoning has almost certainly damaged the brains and other organs of generations of children – and where children continue to be poisoned every day.

Almost a century of lead mining and smelting has left a truly toxic legacy in the once-thriving town of 220,000 people in central Africa’s Copperbelt, 100km north of the capital Lusaka. But the real impact on Kabwe’s people is yet to be fully revealed and, while the first steps towards a clean-up have begun, new dangers are emerging as desperately poor people scavenge in the vast slag heap known as Black Mountain.

“Having been to probably 20 toxic hotspots throughout the world, and seeing mercury, chromium and many contaminated lead sites, [I can say] the scale in Kabwe is unprecedented,” says Prof Jack Caravanos, an environmental health expert at New York University, on his fourth visit to the town. “There are thousands of people affected here, not hundreds as in other places.”

The fumes from the giant state-owned smelter, which closed in 1994, has left the dusty soil in the surrounding area with extreme levels of lead. The metal, still used around the world in car batteries, is a potent neurotoxin and is particularly damaging to children. But it is youngsters who swallow the most, especially as infants when they start to play outside and frequently put their hands in their mouths.

Martin (left) and his brother Gift live in former miner’s housing, next to the giant spoil heaps of the Kabwe mine and smelter. Photograph: Larry C Price for the Guardian

It was at that age that Martin’s mother, Annie Kabwe, first noticed her children getting stomach pains and fevers, and losing weight.

“I thought it might be HIV, but the tests were negative,” she says. Then blood tests revealed very high levels of lead. I thought they would die,” Kabwe says.

After learning about the toxicity of the dust in her neighbourhood and reducing her children’s lead exposure, through frequent washing of hands and clothes, the worst has not happened.

“The problem is they are not really learning well in school, so the lead is still affecting them,” she says.

Caravanos says lead poisoning stays with you for the rest of your life – it can’t be reversed. Having seen the extreme lead levels measured in children in several townships, he says severe and widespread health impacts are highly likely, including brain damage, palsy and ultimately fatalities.

“I am concerned kids are dying here,” he says.

Barry Mulimba, who as a volunteer community facilitator has seen many affected children, says:

“I feel very, very sad, especially for the children, because we consider the children our future leaders and if they do not get a good education, they will not be capable.”

The slow, insidious nature of lead poisoning means careful epidemiological work is needed to distinguish its effects from other causes and reveal the true extent of the crisis. But that work has barely begun.

“It is shocking to think that we are here in 2017 and that problem we have known about for decades is still here,” says Caravanos.

Lead poisoning remains a highly sensitive issue in Kabwe and people from several organisations refused to speak to the Guardian, while those trying to tackle the problem complain that data gathered by officials is not made public.

Children playing with bottle tops in the dust in Chowa township in Kabwe. The dust is highly contaminated with lead, which is extremely toxic. Photograph: Larry C Price for the Guardian

One local source reports that there are children with brain damage, paralysis and blindness – all classic symptoms of lead poisoning – who have not been tested for lead, and that some children with disabilities are hidden away by families fearing stigma. A second source says that the children in Chowa, the township that once housed the mines and smelter workers, are markedly different from those in less polluted townships: “I do notice a slowness in them and they take much longer to catch on to ideas.”

What is clear in Kabwe is the extreme levels of contamination. A large World Bank project that ended in 2011 revealed the problem, though it achieved little in remediating the pollution. In affected townships, the lead in soils is about 10 times the US safety limit and far higher in hotspots.

One such hotspot turns out to be the dusty yard of the only medical clinic in Chowa, which serves 14,000 people. Caravanos uses a handheld detector to reveal extreme lead levels in the sun-baked mud, frequently over 10,000 parts per million (ppm), far above the 400ppm limit in the US. The clinic’s head declined to be interviewed by the Guardian.

The blood levels of lead in children in Kabwe are also known to be very high – a recent study revealed that every one of 246 children tested were above the safety limit of 5 micrograms per decilitre of blood. The vast majority were over 45 micrograms per decilitre, which causes brain, liver and hearing damage, and eight were over 150 micrograms per decilitre, at which point death is the likely outcome.

However, in 2015, 113 years after the smelter first opened, NGOs began to clean up the first homes, funded by Germany’s Terrre des Hommes and delivered by Environment Africa and Pure Earth, using workers from the community. More than 120 homes have had the soil in their yards replaced with clean soil from elsewhere.

“It is a drop in the ocean, but we are happy that we have targeted the most polluted homes first,” says Namo Chuma, Environment Africa’s director in Zambia. But Chuma believes that official recognition of the problem is at least finally starting to be seen: “The government does now acknowledge there is a problem.”

Women and children crush rocks to sell as gravel among the highly contaminated spoil heaps of the former mine. Photograph: Larry C Price for the Guardian

Paul Mukuka, director of public health at Kabwe Municipal Council, says: “The government, like any other government, is concerned for the health of its people.” He says there is a now a fund of 16m kwacha (about $1.7m) that will be spent on cleaning up Kabwe’s toxic pollution, providing the drug therapies that have been absent so far and repairing the clogged canal that is supposed to channel away the run-off from the mine site.

Wilford Chipeta, whose grandson has been poisoned, remains to be convinced:

“We were promised that drugs were coming [before], but nothing came. They always talk but we get nothing.”

Mukuka was confronted by the lead crisis personally when he arrived in Kabwe a year ago looking for a clean neighbourhood for his family: “I have three beautiful girls at home – where are they going to be playing?” He says the new plan also promises new livelihoods, to draw people away from scavenging among the mine’s dumps.

On Black Mountain, bare-foot and ragged-clothed men dig out lead from the huge slag heap, often in long, unsupported tunnels, dug with hand tools and lit only by candles.

“When you don’t make them properly, you find they just bury someone,” says Provost Musonda, a young father of three, and people have died in the scarred hellscape of Black Mountain. He earns about 80 kwacha ($8.50) a day, unless his chest pains prevent him working.

“If I could get another job, I would go there. But there is no way of sustaining our lives otherwise.”

Caravanos uses a portable detector to measure the lead levels on Black Mountain: they are sky high at 30,000-60,000 ppm. “Kids playing here is really unbelievable,” he says, noting the youngsters nearby.

Illegal miners scavenge for lead on Black Mountain, a huge slag heap, exposing themselves to extreme levels of lead. Photograph: Larry C Price for the Guardian

In another part of the mine waste dump, beyond a long breeze block wall emblazoned with large signs reading “Danger keep away!”, people sit in the dust breaking stones to sell as building materials.

At one spot, a young woman, Debola Kunda, toils away, with two of her young children lending a hand. The dust sparkles with the metallic glint of galena – pure lead sulphide – and the soil right next to her four-year-old son, Acili, measures an astronomical 37,900ppm – 100 times above the danger level.

She is concerned about the health of her children, who have not been tested for blood lead. “But what can we do when there are no others at home to take care of the children? How will we eat if we stay at home?” she says.

A new $65m project for Kabwe and three other copperbelt mining areas was approved by the World Bank in December but the Zambian government has yet to give the go-ahead. It could be transformative – but it has yet to happen.

“A programme of more than 3,000 children and citizens of Kabwe would be subjected to constant medical surveillance and treatment programmes and anyone who showed a high blood lead level would be subjected to treatment as well,” says Sanjay Srivastava, at the World Bank, who is optimistic the crisis will be at last tackled. “The government finally recognises there is an issue and and they have to address it.”

Caravanos, who is also senior science advisor to Pure Earth, says the solution to Kabwe’s toxic trouble is clear:

“We have the knowledge – we just have to get the kids away from the exposure. Will Kabwe ever be a lead-free town? No, but it can be a lead safe town.”

A canal drains the huge spoil heaps for the former lead mine but often floods after wet weather. Photograph: Larry C Price for the Guardian

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Frustrations over mining coming to a head in Temotu

Johnny Blades | Radio New Zealand | 27 May 2017

“There is good mining, and there is bad mining, and I’ve witnessed a lot of bad mining,” said the Australian man to the villagers of Noipe in Solomon Islands’ Temotu province. Given the anger among the local community about bauxite mining, the conversation was remarkably cordial.

He stood at a roadblock near their village, speaking to a handful of local adults, a teacher and a couple of dozens kids from Noipe’s primary school.

“We work really hard with the community,” said the man, “we have agreements with communities for good mining. We do everything we can to protect the land, the villages, the people.

“We provide education for the children, we provide training for the adults. Can I show you some photos?” he said, turning to get something from his nearby vehicle.

“Excuse me,” responded the teacher. “We don’t need photos…. we don’t need mining and we don’t need prospecting, that’s all. Our land is our heritage, our future for young generations.”

“Okay, alright, thank you very much” said the Australian politely, before leaving.

The villagers posted a video of the exchange, saying they do not agree with mining prospecting proceeding on their land.

Bauxite interests on Nende

The Australian man in the video is Mark Gwynne, the executive chairman of Pacific Bauxite.

This Australian company owns 50 percent of AU Capital Mining, the entity which in 2015 won a license to prospect for bauxite at Nende in Temotu.

Temotu is the most remote of Solomon Islands’ provinces. Ships only general visit once a fortnight, and the twice weekly scheduled flights from Honiara are often cancelled as there’s little money to have the grass on Temotu’s airstrip cut.

Yet there was a hotly anticipated visit to Temotu this month by Mr Gwynne and company.

Pacific Bauxite, formerly named Iron Mountain Mining, is coming in for increased criticism in Temotu over the way in which it gained a business licence to conduct its prospecting at Nende.

The license was granted soon after the Temotu provincial assembly voted in a new premier, David Maina, to replace Nelson Omar in late March.

Shortly in advance of this, there was a flurry of activity on the Australian stock exchange as people bought up shares in Pacific Bauxite.

Mr Omar said the basis for moves to oust him was to approve the business license.

“(But) the consent from the resource owners, the land owners, how it was conducted was not done in accordance with existing legislations which govern the mining and logging acts,” he explained.

NASA picture of Nende, known also as Santa Cruz, in Solomon Islands’ Temotu province. Photo: NASA

On its website, Pacific Bauxite insists it has consulted with locals.

“The Company is extensively engaged with the local community and is ensuring that all stakeholders are made fully aware of current and future activities regarding the Project.”

But its assertion that “meetings held with local parties to date have been extremely positive and much enthusiasm has been generated by the recent phase of exploration” contradicts comments from the local communities themselves.

In reality, there’s a groundswell of concern about the mining among the community on Temotu’s main island of Nende (Santa Cruz).

The concern stems partly from the feeling that local people weren’t adequately consulted in advance about the prospecting by either the company or government.

It’s also about fear of the potential environmental impacts of mining.

Grace Kava, who is from the west side of Temotu’s capital Lata, said most locals did not approve of bauxite mining due to fear it would devastate the soil.

“Because they already knew something like the bauxite mining up in Rennell (Rennell and Bellona) province up the road, getting into a big disaster. They think the same thing will happen to them.”

Ben Menivi, who is from Graciosa Bay, said mining posed a big threat to the water source from which the community gets much of its drinking water.

“So that’s my concern, that if the bauxite continues, they come and continue the work, they might destroy some of the top soils at the top of the mountain where the water source comes from.”

Ngadeli village in Temotu Province, Solomon Islands, is threatened by sea level rise. Photo: Britt Basel

Another local, Henry Kapu, explained that because Temotu was prone to natural disasters and sea level rise, people from smaller islands in the group flocked to Nende, the province’s main island, when they needed support, for food or other materials.

This support system, he explained, would be at stake once bauxite mining had disrupted then island.

“We will lose all our arable land, crops, ancestral land boundaries and this will further exacerbate land disputes,” he said, warning that this could lead to more ethnic tensions in Solomon Islands.

Beu comments controversial

But the Temotu provincial executive is firmly supportive of the project.

A provincial minister, and former Temotu Premier, Father Brown Beu said they had considered the environmental impacts, and had consulted with landowners who were largely in favour.

“The people who are against this prospecting are all working class, and they’re all in town (Honiara),” said Mr Beu.

“They should be assisting in some form, but they are not. Let me tell you that these people as far as we in Temotu are concerned, we’re not listening to them, full stop.”

He claimed that as a remote and under-developed province, Temotu needed the kind of investment the bauxite project will bring.

“Unlike other investors who are invested in Temotu Province, they (the mining company) will shortly after this be able to provide medical facilities that we will never – I don’t know, centuries to come – never have.

“Isn’t that something that’s worth looking forward to?” he said.

Vanikoro Photo: Supplied

Beu’s characterisation of those against mining as outsiders sparked an outpouring of frustration on Facebook.

“BB is our past parliamentarian. He says we are backwards in terms of development. Has he done any thing better for our province since his leadership to date?” commented one Temotu man, Desmond Nimepo.

When several personnel from the mining company turned up to Temotu in the past week, roadblocks were mounted by landowners to stop them moving around.

Mr Beu, who confirmed the miners were under police protection while in Lata, has been criticised by a former governor general of Solomon Islands.

Sir John Ini Lapli, speaking on behalf of Nende people, said Mr Beu’s comments were way off the mark, and that the provincial executive had not taken the impacts of mining into account.

According to Sir John, the issue had created tension in Temotu.

He indicated that the upper levels of government and the ministry of mines were essentially likely to proceed with the mining, no matter how people felt.

“You know they said in this law that certain feet below the ground it is not people’s land it is government’s so that is where the government is sort of proceeding with this.

“They came with some agent unknown, they didn’t come through the procedure and so they were able to pay some people to sign accepting this proposal they signed up and that is how they locked these landowners,” said Sir John.

Logging machinery being burnt by landowners in Vanikoro, 2016. Photo: Facebook

The provincial government’s involvement in this process echoes the murky experience around logging operations on Temotu’s Vanikoro Island.

These operations, which have proved deeply divisive among the local community, are run by a Malaysian company, Galego Logging, whose local partner is Vanikoro Lumber Limited.

VLL’s chief executive is Temotu’s deputy premier, Ezekiel Tamoa.

According to a Vanikoro native, Edward Pae, Mr Tamoa promised that the developer would come and build infrastructure like roads, clinics, wharves, even an airstrip.

“But up to now, they only cleared the land… There’s totally no infrastructure developments on the land at the moment,” said Mr Pae.

“After five years, there’s a lot of environmental damages done: rivers crossed, tabu sites illegally entered, and most of the water sources that villages or communities around Vanikoro used to use have been badly damaged. And now the people on the ground in Vanikoro are really affected.”

Mr Tamoa disagreed, saying an airstrip and roads were being developed.

He also denied there was any conflict of interest in him being the head of a company which got a license to log from the government he is part of.

“Overall I think most of the landowners are ok with these developments. They stand to benefit from it.”

Logging erosion, Vanikoro. Photo: Planet.com

Mr Tamoa disputed claims that in Vainkoro there had been no benefits from the logging, saying an airstrip and roads are being developed.

He insisted only a few locals had reservations about logging, but opposition to the project has already boiled over into unrest last year in the form of sabtoage of logging machinery, and has the potential to do so again.

Public momentum

Numerous moves are underway to press the provincial government to halt bauxite mining activities, including a public petition.

Furthermore, a paralegal officer and concerned landowner Ruddy Oti has been collecting affidavits signed by Nende landowners who feel they were misled by the mining company when it sought to get landowner consent.

Mr Oti said that earlier some individual landowners had been approached by the company and gave their consent.

“After OceansWatch (environmental NGO) did some awareness in Nende, there was some sense of realisation among these landowners who had previously given their consent, then they eventually agreed to have their consent revoked.”

A Nende local, Titus Godfrey, said developers coming to Temotu tended not to follow the full process for gaining consent, knowing some local people were interested in quick gains.

“I mean, people gave their signature because the guy who came, he came in December, when he came in at Lata they said if you want to survey our places to do the drilling you can pay two hundred dollars or something like that.”

OceansWatch ranger Titus Godfrey (left) and Nelson Nyieda, the NGO’s Solomon Islands Lata Office manager. Photo: Oceans Watch

It’s a theme echoed by Father Colton Medobu, an Anglican priest in Noole village.

“The situation like here is people wait for opportunities of money: money, money, money… And when people talk about these things, people resort to advances of big money. That’s why these people get caught up and use this as the basis for working with the people. And sometimes it extends to bribing people without explaining to people what they’re asked to do.”

He said that local people wanted development and were not strictly against resource extractive operators.

But he said there had to be proper consultation and a proper strategy to avoid potential displacement and negative health and environmental consequences from these developments.

While the provincial government appears unlikely to answer the petition’s call to revoke the mining company’s business license, it is under increasing pressure to respond to the community’s concerns.

Yet Brown Beu said that until the prospecting finished, it was premature to stop the project.

“Then, we’ll be able to ascertain as to whether there is enough minerals in the soil for mining later on,” he explained.

“And that of course depends on the people. Once the reports have come out and the people basically ‘no we don’t want mining’ then that’s it, it’s finished.”

This may not be the case – once a Surface Access Agreement is signed, there is most likely little way to stop the mining other than through the courts at the Development Consent stage.

However out of the current venting on Temotu has come an elevated level of public discourse about mining and logging.

Raising awareness about these areas was the aim of NGO Oceans Watch.

The co-director of Oceans Watch Solomon Islands, Chris Bone, said there had been a lack of awareness about not only the impacts of logging and mining, but also about what the better options were.

Of those options, eco-tourism is an area that Temotu has huge potential in.

“The place is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a very, very special and very treasured place, and one of the last places in the Pacific that has this wonderful primary rainforest,” he said.

Temotu locals want to protect their land against devastation from mining activities. Photo: Facebook

For now, Temotu’s leadership and the national government are being urged to be decisive about community concerns over the mining issue.

Sir John Ini Lapli and others have warned that frustrations among landowners and tribal groups could escalate to violence if nothing is done.

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Chemicals In River Affect Villagers

Michael Arnold | Post Courier | May 26, 2017

Medical teams have found trace amounts of cyanide in the blood of people living in the Mekeo villages of Veifa’a and Aipeana along the banks of the Angabanga River in Central Province.

According to councillor of Veifa’a ward two, Ben Afaisa, medical teams from Port Moresby had done an awareness on the effects, if any of the upstream Tolokuma Gold Mine in Veifa’a and other villages along the river, and had been approached by villagers who became sick after washing in the river.

Upon a return trip to the villages, doctors discovered that villagers had traces of cyanide in their blood which could have been absorbed through the skin or through consumption of plants and animals that also inhabit the area.

“We were tested by doctors from Port Moresby, and they found out that in our bodies we have cyanide and other harmful chemicals,” Cr Afaisa said.

Efforts to approach the Central governor with their concerns have been unsuccessful, and villagers are hoping that the new government will be able to address the issue.

“We haven’t heard anything from the governor about how they plan to address the issue. That river feeds all the west Mekeo villages along its banks, up till Bereina which is at the mouth of the river,” Cr Afaisa said.

The Angabanga River connects many other villages in the Mekeo LLG to Goilala where Tolokuma Gold Mine is also located.

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Taranaki seabed mining would harm sea life, hearing told

Busloads of people have been protesting outside the Environmental Protection Agency as the hearings have continued. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Eric Frykberg | Radio New Zealand | 25 May 2017

Opponents of a proposal to mine millions of tonnes of iron sands from the Taranaki seabed have resumed their attacks in the final day of hearings on the project.

Trans-Tasman Resources wants to dig five million tonnes of iron ore from the seabed every year for the next 35 years.

Two lobby groups, Greenpeace and Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM), want the scheme blocked by the Environmental Protection Agency.

KASM representative Ruby Haazen told the EPA hearing this morning a plume of mined sediment would harm the sea and sea life.

“Marine mammals is the most egregious example but the most fundamental example is the plume,” she said.

“The applicant knew how central it was, yet this hearing was delayed and thrown out of kilter by the need to re-run a worst case scenario, which for reasons we have canvassed was not worst case.”

Ms Haazen said the worst case did not stack up economically either.

The company will make its final statement this afternoon.

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NZ EPA must again refuse experimental seabed mining application

KASM | Scoop | 25 May 2017

Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) had failed to provide the information on the impacts of seabed mining that the EPA used as a basis for refusing the company’s first application in 2014, so there was no choice but to again refuse consent, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining and Greenpeace told the hearing today.

After a four-month EPA hearing into TTR’s application to mine 50 million tonnes of the South Taranaki Bight seabed every year for 35 years, KASM and Greenpeace gave their closing arguments to the EPA today (full document here).

In 2014, the EPA gave clear directives as to the information that should be gathered before submitting a new application, the groups told the hearing. TTR did some new modelling on the sediment “plume” and economics, but that was all.

“The other key areas for work such as marine mammals, benthic and seabird studies had not been undertaken. It just wasn’t done,” KASM and Greenpeace lawyer Ruby Haazen told the hearing.

“The South Taranaki Bight is an area that has not been the subject of any in -depth scientific or environmental research. What we know has always been limited. [TTR] has attempted to convince us that there is in fact a lack of environmental activity in the area.

“This thinking underpins the philosophy of the applicant in approaching this application and sums up how things have gone so wrong.

She noted that this application was – and still is – the first of its kind, not just in New Zealand but internationally; its effects are new and unique, and the scale of the proposed application is large and unlike any carried out in New Zealand before.

“The South Taranaki Bight is an environment that hosts an array of marine life, supporting some of the most threatened and rare species in the world and a feeding ground for seabirds, fish, marine mammals and a breeding ground for blue whales. This is only what we have found out so far.”

“The evidence presented has demonstrated that from what we do know, this area may be much more significant than anyone previously thought,” she said.

The company had modelled the spread of the “plume” of sediment around the STB, but had withheld key data. There were not enough samples for any expert to be able to verify the company’s claims that “flocculation” would reduce the effect of the plume. The so-called “worst case scenario” modelling that the EPA sent the company back to carry out was nothing like the “worst case” – and cannot be verified.

“Enormous uncertainties remain, not only on the worst case plume model but on the effects of the model presented as worst case, on primary productivity, the benthos, marine mammals and seabirds.”

Despite what the EPA said in its 2014 decision, TTR hadn’t done any further marine mammal surveys for this second application, and even then those surveys were only between the mine site and the shoreline.

This contrasted with evidence given by blue whale expert Dr Leigh Torres, who confirmed to the hearing that many blue whales had been seen in the South Taranaki Bight, and that her research confirmed that the Bight may be host to New Zealand’s own population of blue whales.

Nobody really knew what the effect of noise from the mining would have on marine mammals, including the whales.

“The underwater noise predictions are inadequate and insufficient as a basis for a biological risk assessment. Insufficient information is available at this time to estimate the noise levels that would be experienced by marine mammals in the area.”

The EPA decision is due around the end of June.

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CEO explains experimental undersea mining

In the article below Nautilus’ CEO paints a rosy picture that is very much at odds with the REAL STORY in its financial filings. Follow the links to read the true picture: 

Nautilus admits serious questions over Solwara 1 viability and future

Nautilus admits environmental impacts of experimental seabed mining unknown

The National aka The Loggers Times | May 25, 2017

THE first undersea mining in the country will take place in New Ireland and operated by Nautilus Minerals. Chief executive officer MIKE JOHNSTON explained to The National’s Business Editor SHIRLEY MAULUDU the nature of the project. He also discussed environmental aspects of the project.

MAULUDU: Tell us briefly about the company Nautilus Minerals.
JOHNSTON: Nautilus is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and is the first public company to explore the deep ocean floor the world’s future mineral resources. Nautilus was granted the world’s first exploration licence for deep sea mineral resources in 1997. Our first mining lease and environment permit were granted in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
MAULUDU: Tell us about the Solwara 1 project in New Ireland.
JOHNSTON: The Solwara 1 project is located in the Bismarck Sea, Papua New Guinea, 30 kms from the coast of New Ireland and 1600 meters below the surface. The project uses technologies from the offshore oil and gas industry, and terrestrial underground mining to produce high grade copper and gold. The planned extractions area is very small at 0.1 km2.  Additional benefits include that no tailings are produced, no landowners are required to be moved, and there is no impact from mining above 1300m water depth. The project is being developed in partnership with the PNG Government. It is fully permitted and has strong local and national support.
MAULUDU: Which communities, wards or the district in New Ireland will be directly impacted by the project?
JOHNSTON: As Solwara 1 is located at 1,600m water depth in the ocean, 30km from land, no one is directly impacted by the project. There is also no requirement to clear land, and no impact on tuna or coastal fisheries. An area known as the “Coastal Area of Benefit” (CAB) has been established by the provincial and national governments, where communication and community benefit programmes are focussed. The CAB comprises seven wards on the west coast of New Ireland. Only last week, Nautilus, in partnership with the NIPG, and with the assistance of Abt Associates and the New Ireland Provincial Health Authority, completed a health patrol and data collection programme (began in Oct 2016). The team estimated during this programme that they saw 7000-plus patients, out of a population of around 8500. These programmes will be ongoing.
MAULUDU: What sort of tools will be used to carry out the mining?
JOHNSTON: The production system uses existing technology from the offshore oil and gas sector, combined with rock cutting and materials handling technologies used in land-based operations.
The three main components of the Seafloor Production System are:
l Seafloor Production Tools comprising auxiliary cutter, bulk cutter and collecting machine;
l riser and Lifting System; and,
l Production Support Vessel.
The mining tools cut the rock material, which is then transferred to the Production Support Vessel as a “sloppy slurry” via a very large pump and steel pipe (riser) system.  On board the vessel the high grade rock is separated from the water by gravity methods. The resulting rock is stored in the ship’s hull, to be later transfer to a bulk cargo vessel, then shipped directly to China.
MAULUDU: How will the minerals be mined from under the sea?
JOHNSTON: Rock is cut on the seafloor by the AC and the BC, and then pumped to an adjacent stockpile area. The third machine, CM, then collects the cut material, sucking it up and transferring it as seawater slurry to the main pump, situated at the bottom of the steel riser system. The riser system comprises a rigid steel riser pipe supported from the vessel which delivers the slurry to the surface. The large subsea pump is situated at the bottom of the riser pump, just off the sea floor.  The entire riser and pump system is suspended directly beneath the support vessel. On the deck of the Production Support Vessel, the slurry is dewatered using gravity. The solid material is stored temporarily in the PSV’s hull, and then discharged to a transportation vessel moored alongside. Filtered seawater is pumped back to the seafloor through the riser pipes and provides hydraulic power to operate the RALS pump. Discharge of the return water at the seafloor from where it came eliminates mixing of the water column, and minimises the environmental impact of the operation.
MAULUDU: What minerals in particular will Nautilus be mining for?
JOHNSTON: Copper and gold.
MAULUDU: Environmental issues have been raised by individuals, groups, regarding the Solwara 1 project. How will Nautilus avoid causing any impact on the environment within which it will operate?
JOHNSTON: There are many significant environmental benefits to mining in the deep sea. And our systems try to use these benefits as much as possible. These include effectively no mine tailings, minimal pre-stripping of sediment, low fresh water needs, no vegetation stripping or fresh water catchment issues, minimal rehabilitation costs with no permanent on-site infrastructure such as roads, power lines, buildings and so on. At Solwara 1 we were able for example to design our riser system as a fully enclosed pump and pipe system to extract the mineralised material from the seafloor. There is no mixing of the water column and there is no impact from mining shallower than 1300m water depth at Solwara 1 (more than 1000 meters below where most tuna, whales etc live)
MAULUDU: How is Nautilus doing with its awareness programme in educating the impact communities on the nature of the project?
JOHNSTON: Nautilus has always and continues to ensure that the communities located closest to its Solwara 1 Project (and the wider community in PNG) are fully informed about the Solwara 1 Project. During the development of the Solwara 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), we visited a number of villages and towns in PNG to ensure the views and concerns of local communities were heard. The specific villages and towns were determined in consultation with PNG national and provincial governments. Our commitment to the community does not end with the completion of the EIS or granting of the Environment Permit. Community engagements have continued to take place since the Environment Permit was granted by the then Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) in December 2009. Representatives from the national and provincial governments accompany Nautilus Minerals during these community engagement campaigns. To date, Nautilus Minerals has recorded the attendance of around 30,000 people at engagements/awareness campaigns held in 46 locations within PNG. Both numbers are still growing. We plan to continue with our community engagement campaigns in New Ireland and East New Britain as we move into the operations phase of the project. We have and will continue to focus our engagement programme on the villages located nearest to the Solwara 1 Project site, the CAB. This area covers the communities who have the greatest interest in understanding the project and this will be where many of our CSR programs will be implemented.
MAULUDU: Give an update on the progress of the Solwara 1 project.
JOHNSTON: Nautilus has taken delivery of the Seafloor Production Tools (SPTs). They are currently undergoing submerged trials in PNG. The Riser and Ancillary equipment is completed and currently in storage. The Subsea Slurry and Lift Pump is completed and Nautilus will take delivery of it later this year. The Production Support Vessel is currently being built in China and is progressing to schedule.

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Another ‘world class’ mine embroiled in controversy

Report blasts Antofagasta Minerals’ Los Pelambres mine in Chile

Valentina Ruiz Leotaud | MINING.com | 22 May 2017

An 18-pages long report released today by the London Mining Network slams Antofagasta Minerals’ 60%-owned Los Pelambres copper mine, located in the central-northern of Chile in Coquimbo Region.

In a move that comes just a couple of days prior to Antofagasta’s annual general meeting in London, the document titled In the Valley of the Shadow of Death? A Report on Antofagasta Plc, Minera Los Pelambres and Los Caimanes, highlights allegations of corruption, environmental damage and water depletion caused by the project’s waste tailings dam.

According to the report, the El Mauro tailings dam, with a capacity of 1,700 million tonnes of mine waste, is the biggest in Latin America, surpassing Brazilian Samarco dam by 100 times. The magnitude of the dam, the dossier reads, is a cause of concern for both environmental groups and local residents, who think a similar the disaster to that that took place at Samarco in 2015 could happen in their own community.

Samarco’s breach was linked to small earthquakes and El Mauro’s facility not only is located in a highly seismic region, but it is also expected to grow in size as part of the Los Pelambres’ plans to expand production. “People living in the village of Caimanes would be expected to evacuate their homes within ten minutes of a breach at Antofagasta’s El Mauro dam,” the report states.

Los Pelambres has published a government-approved emergency plan, however, “residents’ attempts to access this plan using the Transparency Law have not been attended to,” today’s report adds.

Community concerns have resulted in a series of actions that date back to 2006 and that have delayed the company’s idea of building two new grinding mills and a desalination plant.

One of the major actions against the El Mauro tailings dam took place in July of 2013 when the Chilean Supreme Court ruled the tailings dam a “danger to human life” and made Minera Los Pelambres officially liable for any loss of human life in the event of a collapse of the dam.

El Mauro dam. Photo from Los Pelambres’ website.

Such ruling highlighted that the dam is constructed to withstand an earthquake of between 7.5 and 8.3 magnitude with an epicentre 80 km away, when the actual closest epicentre is just 60 km away. Thus, the company was ordered to submit the aforementioned emergency plan to reinforce the dam in case of an earthquake.

Later on, in May of 2014, Los Caimanes residents won a case against Minera Los Pelambres in the court of Los Vilos Province. The tailings dam was ruled a “Ruinous Work” (Obra Ruinosa – which asks for the demolition of the facility), in reference to the risk of the dam’s collapse in the event of an earthquake. However, the ruling was appealed in April of 2015, the company presented a safety action plan and a strategy to reduce the dam’s liquid content and, in the end, Los Pelambres won the appeal.

In October of that same year, in a case relating to the ongoing construction of the dam wall (“Obra Nueva”), the Chilean Supreme Court ordered Minera Los Pelambres to restore the free flow of uncontaminated water to the Pupio basin, where the tailings dam is located, and to do this by demolishing the tailings dam or by executing other actions that would help solve the situation. The company was permitted one month to present such alternative option.

In August of 2016, following an appeal of a prior decision against it by the Supreme Court, Los Pelambres was permitted to leave the dam in place, while improving its safety features and providing access to water in the area through pipes and tanks, rather than restoring the natural water flows.

The latter decision came following a May 2016 “Agreement of understanding and cooperation between the mining company and the residents of the Pupio valley,” which lays the groundwork for the expansion of the mine and tailings dam, or possible construction of another tailings dam in the area.

This agreement, says London Mining Network’s report quoting researchers and residents, had a lot of influence in the August of 2016 appeal and was led by lawyers that later on withdrew from the case. The document stated that families who signed would receive around £35,000 which, says LMN, wouldn’t sustain them for long. The activist group also says the money wouldn’t guarantee many of them the amount of land, or the standard of living, they had prior to the construction of the tailings dam.

On top of this, the report adds, the agreement would not compensate for the water scarcity caused in the area by the dam.

“Residents now rely on deliveries of bottled water for use in agriculture as well as human consumption. The river in the Pupio basin has had groundwater diverted away from El Mauro dam into wells; less water is readily available, and this water supply is likely to be contaminated.”

When it comes to claims of pollution, the document cites a 2012 independent investigation undertaken by Andrei Tchernitchin from the University of Chile, who found high levels of manganese, mercury, iron, nickel and molybdenum in water sources in the area, caused by permanently occurring leakages into the groundwater channels in the area.

The report also quotes a Chile’s environmental regulator 2016 charges against Los Pelambres for extracting water from unauthorized sites, building unapproved wells and failing to reforest some areas as required by law.

Minera Los Pelambres produces levels of around 400,000 tonnes of copper and 8,000 tonnes of molybdenum per year.

The company did not respond to MINING.com‘s request for comment by closing time.

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