Tag Archives: Health

Yet another example of unpredicted but devastating impacts from mining…


A flock of birds at night in northern Kazakhstan, where two villages are being evacuated after people began falling asleep at random, even while walking. Photograph: Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters

Mystery of Kazakhstan sleeping sickness solved, says government

More than 140 people in two tiny villages were hit by the illness, with sufferers drifting off for up to six days – now scientists appear to have discovered the cause

Alec Luhn | The Guardian

Scientists have discovered the cause of a strange sleeping sickness affecting residents of two villages in northern Kazakhstan, the government has said.

Since March 2013, the mysterious illness has affected more than 140 people in Kalachi and Krasnogorsk, dusty settlements in the huge Kazakh steppe, with a total population of 810 people, mostly ethnic Russians and Germans. Villagers would fall asleep suddenly, even while walking, and wake up with memory loss, grogginess, weakness and headaches. Some fell victim more than half a dozen times, with sufferers sleeping for up to six days at a time.

“The sick person appears to be conscious and can even walk. But all the same he then falls into a deep sleep and snores, and when they wake him up … the person remembers absolutely nothing,” the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reported after a 2014 investigation.

The sickness would affect both old and young, with children dropping off at school. Some reported nightmarish hallucinations: local children Rudolf Boyarinos and Misha Plyukhin told Komsomolskaya Pravda they had seen winged horses, snakes in their beds and worms eating their hands.

Even pets were not immune. Kalachi resident Yelena Zhavoronkova told the newspaper Vremya that her cat Marquis suddenly “went stupid” on a Friday night and began meowing and attacking walls, furniture and the family dog.

“He fell asleep toward morning and snored like a human until lunchtime on Saturday. He didn’t react to anything, not even cat food,” Zhavoronkova said.

Doctors tested Marquis and other sufferers, but the mysterious illness defied all explanation. At first they thought the patients were suffering the after-effects of counterfeit vodka, but as the epidemic grew they began diagnosing people with “encephalopathy of an unknown origin”, a generic term for brain illnesses, Interfax reported.

Many suspected the nearby uranium mines that were closed after the fall of the Soviet Union, leaving Krasnogorsk a ghost town with only 130 of its former 6,500 residents. Kazakhstan’s health ministry tested more than 7,000 nearby homes but didn’t find significantly high levels of radiation or of heavy metals and their salts. It detected raised radium levels in some homes, but it was not enough to explain the phenomenon.

Even sleep disorder experts could not find a cause. One somnologist told Komsomolskaya Pravda in 2014 that the two isolated villages were most likely suffering from a case of mass psychosis similar to the “Bin Laden itch”, a psychosomatic rash that afflicted children in the US as fears of terrorist attacks peaked in 2002.

Now the mystery has at last been solved and the cause does indeed lie in the uranium mines, said Kazakhstan’s deputy PM, Berdibek Saparbaev. After analysing the results of medical examinations of all the residents, researchers concluded that it was caused by heightened levels of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons in the air.

“The uranium mines were closed at some point, and at times a concentration of carbon monoxide occurs there,” Saparbaev said. “The oxygen in the air is reduced accordingly, which is the real reason for the sleeping sickness in these villages.”

Evacuation of the two villages has begun, with authorities reportedly relocating 68 of 223 families so far.

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Alluvial gold mining a concern

Aloysius Laukai | New Dawn

ABG President Chief John Momis says that thousands of Bougainvillians are into alluvial mining which could be either good and bad.

Speaking at the ABG House let week, President Momis named places that they are currently panning gold.

They are in Central Bougainville,Pakia,Kupei,Panguna, Moroni,Kitano, Kawerong River, Atamo, Karato, Loloho, Kongara and Paruparu.

In South Bougainville,President Momis names places like, Wisai, Deuro Jaba river and Torokina.

And in North Bougainville he mentioned Tinputz ,

Cheif Momis said small scale is giving significant income to many Bougainvilleans, but can also cause, land issues, enviromental distructions, damage to infrastures, health problems due to the excessive use of highly toxic mercury in processing Gold and also the safety of miners can be compromised as mines collapse killing miners.

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Color Change: a chronicle of deceit and genocide in PNG

Color Change, a new documentary from Front Yard Films, is a testimony to the wrong done by BHP Billiton to the people of the Western Province of Papua New Guinea and the deceit and genocide that preceded BHPs exit from the mine.

The feature length documentary follows a team of landowners who challenge the large Australian-based mining company, BHP as it goes about securing guarantees of total immunity against legal action following years of environmental damage to the land and rivers of the people of the remote Western province.

The film has been shown at the Reel Earth Environmental Film Festival, the Southern Hemisphere’s leading film festival with an environment focus, and is also being edited to a shorter duration for television.

The story

In a remote Papua New Guinea province the landowners are in a complex struggle with a multinational over their rights and their environment. By 2001, BHP had dumped billions of tonnes of tailings from the Ok Tedi copper mine into the Ok Tedi and Fly River systems.

In 1994, the company was stunned when landowners successfully enlisted the support of Australian lawyers to prosecute a class action because of environmental devastation of their land.

By 2000, after dishonoring an out-of-court settlement to clean up the river, BHP decided to exit the mine. As part of the plan, BHP ‘gave’ its fifty two percent share of the Ok Tedi mine to the Papua New Guinea Government as a gift. In return, they demanded a guarantee of total immunity from prosecution by landowners. The company set out on a campaign to get signatures from local people on their exit documents.

Many villagers, their food supply poisoned by mine pollution and dependent on compensation payments, are strongly attracted to BHP’s offers of money and community projects. A small group of landowners – the protagonists in the film – desperately try to convince local people, lured by company promises, not to sign their rights away.

As pressure builds in the final and secretive stages of BHP’s exit negotiations, confusion reins, divisions grow and death threats are reported. Our protagonists are devastated when village leaders – flown in by company helicopters and feted at company expense – blindly sign the exit agreement.

Disillusioned, some leaders try to give evidence of the methods used by company representatives to get their signatures, but to no avail. The agreement has already been passed into law.

The environment and the people of the Ok Tedi and Fly rivers are slowly being poisoned as the mining operation continues to operate ‘as normal’.

Watch a promotional clip – http://www.frontyardfilms.com.au/Color%20clip.html

Directors statement

The idea of this story is to convey a reality that exists for the people of the Western Province of Papua New Guinea, to this day.

My interpretation of this chronicle of genocide is informed by the stories told by the people themselves and the beliefs, frustrations and hopes they expressed.

The inspiration for the title, Color Change comes from the descriptions they gave of the changes to their natural environment since the mine began discharging mine tailings directly into the rivers. This also inspired the treatment of the images of the film that come in three natural parts.

Part 1, the Prologue, is depicted by a warm almost surreal atmosphere, contained and restricted by the square-like 4:3 framing, which symbolises the escalating situation for the communities along the Ok Tedi and Fly rivers.

Part 2, the central story, uses normal color balance and the benefit of the 16:9 wide screen, to invoke space and normality, suggestive of the hope among the film’s protagonists and their supporters that something good may come of it all.

Part 3, the steel cold look, symbolizes the realisation that bigger forces are at work to disempower people challenging the mine’s modus operandi and continue to cause the destruction of the land.

The music composed by Phillip Houghton, is poetic, haunting, gritty, and in your face most of the time. It is a break away from the heroic overtones of music heralding adventure and the conquest of the wild in a far away country, used in the promotional film produced by BHP, an excerpt of which features in the film’s opening.

Houghton’s music also acts to remind the audience of the workings of a mine, a confronting noise caused by equipment – trucks, bulldozers, explosions – to which local people are exposed daily.

This is perhaps a dark film, but as a lawyer in the film says, ‘the difference between success and failure in this sort of case, is who can exert the greatest economic influence on the outcome.’

The film serves as a testimony to the wrong done by BHP Billiton to the people of the Western Province of Papua New Guinea.

But it also acts as an alarm bell, to warn people of what is to come for all of us if respect is not shown towards local indigenous peoples and their environment.


Filed under Corruption, Environmental impact, Financial returns, Human rights, Papua New Guinea

Porgera landowners demand resettlement

The Porgera Land Owners Association (PLOA), in partnership with the Porgera Alliance has released a report detailing the case for the urgent resettlement of their people away from Barrick’s Porgera mine.

The report covers the health hazards associated with living close to the mine, as well as enumerating the human rights abuses caused by mine security. The report also recounts the history of the mine’s agreements with the local community, revealing a pattern of neglect of the community’s free, prior and informed consent at nearly every stage of the mine’s development.

This report follows investigations and reports published by Amnesty International, Harvard Law, Human Rights Watch, and the Norwegian Government all detailing the dangerous conditions near the Porgera mine.

The report provides a comprehensive look at the history of the Porgera mine, from the perspective of the landowners who have led negotiations with the company.

Download the report here: http://www.porgeraalliance.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Urgent-Resettlement-Porgera-web.pdf


Filed under Corruption, Environmental impact, Human rights, Papua New Guinea

Ramu mine delivers empty tanks and empty promises

By Martyn Namorong

When the people of Ganglau and Mindre villages agreed to the industrialization of their land at Basamuk, Madang Province, they thought they would get;

An empty tank installed by Ramu Nico stands next to the rundown Aid Post at Ganglau Village, Basamuk, Rai Coast

  • Good Health care
  • A Primary School
  • Road linkage to Madang Town
  • Water supply
  • Power supply
  • Business opportunities
  • Employment opportunities

The people had good reason to believe that they would enjoy the above benefits as they were promised by the government and miners. Unfortunately, there has been very little progress.

The township that houses Chinese workers has been built in the catchment area of a nearby creek that provided drinking water for Mindre villagers. Sewerage from the township is drained into the creek. The creek has lost its flow and is slowly dying. Fish and eels that once inhabited the creek are gone.

Today the villagers of Mindre have to walk about 3 Km to the Yaganon River, to bathe, do their laundry and fetch drinking water. They have however noted a decrease in the water table around the Yaganon which they say is due to water extraction by Ramu Nico. The miner has six pumping stations located along the Yaganon River. Local leaders at Mindre village say that the Chinese and their Australian partner Highlands Pacific Ltd aren’t paying for the water they pump out of the Yaganon River.

The miners have set up one tank per village, which they connected to their water mains. However, a dispute with the company over monthly fees has meant that nothing flows into the tanks. The people do not want to pay the company for water which they say is being extracted free by the company.

The people have watched on the sidelines as their land was possessed and the processing facilities and associated structures erected. Power lines and water pipes run past their village to modern accommodation units while they live in bush material homes without electricity or water supply.

The sea is their last untouched resource. The coconut and cocoa plantations at Basamuk that once provided their income have been destroyed to clear the land for the Nickel/cobalt processing plant.

On Sunday 31st of July, they gathered under a mango tree at Mindre village to discuss the National Court Decision regarding Deep Sea Tailings. They cannot understand why their Provincial leaders were happy to see tailings being deposited into the ocean.

Many just don’t want to see the Chinese anymore. Incidents of stoning of company vehicles have increased. Company officials complained about this to the Police who then brought up the issue with villagers on Monday 1st of August. The village leaders told the police that such incidents are bound to continue as there is widespread resentment of the company.


Filed under Corruption, Environmental impact, Human rights, Papua New Guinea

Hidden Valley mine report reveals poor environmental management

The Hidden Valley mine in Papua New Guinea, owned by Newcrest Mining and Harmony Gold, has caused serious environmental damage to the Watut river and the Department of Environment and Conservation has failed in its role as a regulator. These are the conclusions drawn from an independent scientific report released last week.

The Independent Environmental Performance Audit, produced by the Australian consultancy company Snowy Mountains Engineering (SMEC) paints a very poor picture of management standards, cost cutting and a failure to implement approved plans at the Hidden Valley mine. The report reveals:

  • Mine activities have released high level of sedimentation into the Watut River system.
  • Elevated levels of arsenic, cobalt, lead, manganese, iron, mercury and free cyanide have been released into the river
  • Even the sewage treatment systems is overloaded and unable to treat wastewater to permit standards causing pathogenic risk to river communities that rely on the water system downstream
  • Soil and erosion control measures have not been fully implemented across the mine site and there are significant erosion issues associated with unstable slopes and waste dumps
  • Waste management is not done in accordance with the waste Management Plan and there is no waste register or evidence that waste minimization and reuse programs have been fully implemented
  • The landfill is poorly located and managed, and poses an ongoing environmental risk.
  • Monitoring, quality assurance and training procedures have been poorly implemented.

As a result of these failures the environmental impacts that are noted in the report include:

  • Water quality in the Watut river has deteriorated and is a potential health risk
  • Fish and prawn communities have been depleted
  • Significant impacts on aquatic ecology

The conquences of the mine failures on local people are acute. They are having to find alternative water sources for drinking and domestic uses, have lost important food and protein sources and have lost income sources.

The report also reveals the failures of the Department of Environment and Conservation to adequately police the mine operations and its inability to take effective action once the environmental problems were exposed. DEC also failed to properly assess the mine’s social and environmental impacts prior to issuing an environmental permit, even though an increase in the potential sediment load to the Watut River was revealed in the mine’s Environmental Impact Statement.

SMEC was originally engaged by DEC in December 2009, almost one year after people started petitioning the government over the mine’s impacts but even then no action was taken by DEC on the initial report findings until November 2010 and, again, only as a result of pressure from local landholders and their MP.


Filed under Environmental impact, Human rights, Papua New Guinea

Health Minister slams govt agencies for mining woes

By Ellen Tiamu

The mining industry is not serving the people of Papua New Guinea because laws and regulations are not being adhered to, Health Minister and Member for Huon Gulf, Sasa Zibe says.

Speaking at a presentation of the Watut Environmental Impact Report by the Department of Environment and Conservation in Lae on Wednesday, Zibe said government agencies such as the Department of Environment and Conservation, Mineral Resources Agency, Department of Mining and Investment Promotion Authority were not helping local people and landowners get a better deal out of mining activity in their localities.

That, he said, was resulting in destructive mining practices and laying open the possibility of developers engaging in a culture of influencing and manipulating politicians, bureaucrats and local landowners in the race to acquire more and new mining concessions.

Zibe, in whose electorate Hidden Valley Mining is operating, said government after government, year after year had pleaded with the people to free their land so development could occur but that had not happened.
He said true development was about people.

Their empowerment, training, education and government agencies were supposed to be at the forefront to help people make quality decisions so they had better futures through the wise use of their resources.

He said the Departments of Mining and Environment and Conservation and other line agencies had fallen short of their constitutional and statutory obligations and was why mining operations in the country face disturbances.

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