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.


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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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Bulolo MP slams Hidden Valley mine and govt over environmental damage

Newcrest Mining and Harmony Gold, owners of the Hidden Valley mine, and the Papua New Guinea government’s Department of Environment  and Conservation came under intense fire today over the environmental approval process and suspicions of waste disposal into the Watut River system.

Bulolo MP Sam Basil had both the company and DEC in his sights as he unleashed a scathing attack beginning with the delay in responding to the people’s petition , which took 22 months, the approval of a seemingly-flawed environmental management plan as well as questionable practice in monitoring and assessing key environmental indicators.

Drawing from the SMEC report commissioned by DEC after the September 2009 people’s petition to carry out an independent environmental performance audit of Hidden Valley Gold Mine, Basil said:

“It took the entire 2010 for DEC to work with MMJV to get their act together before this face-to-face meeting with the people.

“I believe DEC would not have responded to the issues or formed the expert committee if there was no petition from us.”

Basil pointed out that the SMEC Report between June 6, 2010 and November 19, 2010 went through a total of three revisions.

The main key objectives of the audit were:

  1. To assess mine performance with regard to permitting compliance and environmental management;
  2. To assess offsite impacts due to historic and current mine activities; and
  3. Therefore, enhance DEC’s capacity to effectively monitor and regulate the future operation of the mine as well as provide the basis for the formulation of an appropriate response to the Watut River community.

“The SMEC report confirmed that from the two permits (waste discharge and water extraction) issued in April 2006 to March 2010, there were a total of 10 non-compliances and 30 partial compliance conditions out of the total 73 conditions,” Basil said.

“This is 54.8% non or partial compliance to the permits issued by DEC.

“Not only that, the environmental management plan (EMP) which was granted with 11 conditions in April 2006 was not updated by March 2010 audit.

“The EMP did not significantly meet ISO 14000 – an international standard on environmental management.

“The report confirmed that the environmental management is not properly co-ordinated and there has been generally poor response in resolving permit non-compliances.

“What my people and I fail to understand is how despite the EMP for MMJV project not being compliant to ISO 14000, DEC saw fit to allow the project to go ahead.

“Permit No. WD-L3 (50) was also not followed.

“The EMP was said to have been updated since August 2009. Coincidently, that might have been triggered again by the petition we handed in September 2009.”

Referring to details in the report, the Bulolo MP added:

“The report confirmed that the soil and surface water and erosion management requirements were not fully implemented across the site.

“There were significant erosion issues associated with unstable slopes and waste dumps.

“There is no permit limit or adopted target for suspended solids concentration in water drainage off the site.

“DEC has again failed to establish clearly the target for suspended solid concentration in water drainage off the site.

“That alone should result in disallowing MMJV to discharge waste excessively off site.

“The report also pointed out that the waste management was not done in accordance with the waste management Plan.

“There was no waste register or evidence that waste minimisation and re-use programmes were fully implemented across the site.

“The landfill was poorly located and managed, and posed an ongoing environmental risk.

“This significantly throws away the principle of sustainable mining practice.

“So where have all the hazardous and toxic mine wastes generated over the years gone to?

“Where were they disposed of? It does not take a rocket scientist to work out they were disposed into the Watut River!

“There was no thorough ground water monitoring done to assess the bioavailability of hydrocarbons, VOC, PCB, and other environmental persistent chemicals.

“The SMEC report confirmed that these waste treatment systems appear to be overloaded and unable to treat wastewater to permit standards.

“There was potential for downstream pathogenic and nutrient contamination, which poses a health threat to downstream inhabitants.

“This indicates high potential of raw wastewater discharge downstream.

“ Riverine communities and alluvial miners can and may still be easily be affected.

“Highly raw pathogenic contamination of the river system which can easily affect/influence the river health balance.

“That in turn is highly unhygienic and harmful, especially when the river communities use the river for drinking, laundry and washing cooking utensils daily.

“This also has the potential of aggravating skin irritation and affects small sores or cuts on the epidermal layer of the skin especially on the foot or below the waist line.

“Issues raised by pregnant women bathing or crossing the river resulting in other health concerns can also be clearly linked to this.”

Adding to this quotes from other relevant reports including one commissioned by MMJV itself, Basil said:

“These are very serious – and dangerous flaws.

“Their impact and implications are long-lasting on the water source health and even lives of the people.

“They signal a lack of confidence in MMJV as a trustworthy development partner and investor.

“But worse of all, the attitude of the Department of Environment and Conservation together with the Minister involved, to these issues completely goes against the democratic idea of governance.

“Instead of democratic governance being for the people – this is completely against the people.

“This is the reason why there is growing pressure for the government to relinquish its option on equity in mining projects to landowners, LLGs and the districts and assume the role of being regulator and tax collector more.

“When the alternative government is in office, we will pursue this as a policy so there is clear demarcation between the government’s role as compliance regulator and tax collector, the private sector and investors’ role as developers, and the landowner’s role and interests

“I hope my presentation – based on the hard work of many experts and professionals – will cause all stakeholders to do the right thing  for all our collective benefit  and especially the people living along the riverine areas from near the mine site all the way to the coast of Huon Gulf.”


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Production at Ok Tedi still suspended

Malum Nalu

Production at the giant Ok Tedi mine in the Western province of Papua New Guinea is still suspended after four “localised” ruptures to its pyrite concentrate waste pipeline last month.

The ruptures occurred in a small section of the pipeline that runs from its tailings processing plant to underwater storage pits located at Bige.

The ruptures were mainly caused by the scouring of the pipe as the slurry travelled through the pipeline which is buried under the road. Investigations to determine the condition of the full length of the pipeline are still progressing.

As soon as the ruptures were reported, OTML took immediate steps to shut down the pipeline, however, this did not prevent some of the pyrite concentrate that was still in the pipeline spilling into the environment.

It is estimated that between 100 and 200 cubic metres of pyrite concentrate was lost through the ruptures.

A team of officers from OTML’s environment and community relations departments are working with the local communities to clean up areas affected by the spill.

Due to the steep terrain,  the clean up may take several more weeks to complete.

Monitoring of these areas including the creeks and streams where the spill has entered is still ongoing.

Current results from the sampling and monitoring program has indicated that while the bulk of the pyrite remains close to the points of rupture, some pyrite is visible in streams up to 2km downstream of the ruptures.

All efforts are being made to trap and remove pyrite concentrate in the affected streams.

Water monitoring to date shows that apart from an initial flush of process water during the rupture, the water quality of the impacted streams has not been affected.

Water samples collected downstream of the pyrite ruptures indicate that the water is safe to use.

Pyrite is a natural mineral containing both iron and sulphur and is commonly found in rocks, especially those that contain valuable metals like gold or copper.

Pyrite can be potentially harmful to the environment because on exposure to air and water it can slowly produce acid.

Results from monitoring of the impacted streams to date shows no evidence of acidification occurring, however,  monitoring will be ongoing both during and after the spill cleanup.

OTML managing director, Nigel Parker has said that everything possible was being done to ensure the communities were not affected by the spill “and we will be communicating to the communities the results of the environmental assays for water quality”.

Parker added that OTML had had discussions with the impacted communities and the State on its plans to recommence production while the pipeline was being repaired but said the decision to recommence production must have approval from the communities and the state.

Meanwhile, the company refutes claims of local communities being affected by the spills.

Parker stated that officers from the OTML community relations and environment departments were monitoring the situation on a daily basis and there had been no such incidents reported.

OTML is a 100% PNG-owned company and in 2010 it contributed 18% to PNG’s gross domestic product and 32% in export earnings.

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MPs say Ok Tedi mine must close in 2013

Political leaders from the Western Province have made a unanimous decision for Ok Tedi mine to be closed in 2013.

Governor for Western Province Dr Bob Danaya, North Fly MP Boka Kondra, Middle Fly MP Roy Biyama and South Fly MP Sali Subam in a joint statement last week said the time has come to put an end to the Restated Ninth Supplemental Agreement which expired in 2010, the year the mine was initially planned to close.

They said it was important that the shareholders, PNG Sustainable Development Program and the State were mindful of this decision and that as a province they were putting them (shareholders) on notice.

The leaders said it was most disappointing that shareholders failed to give due respect to the legitimate provincial government and resource owners and those along the Kiunga Tabubil Highway and the Fly River corridors which has been devastated by severe environmental damage and river pollution.

The leaders statement said:

“We can no longer tolerate this blatant disregard for our river systems, land and the environment that our people live off. Our people’s lives are more important now and the future. Money cannot buy lives but has become a curse to our people who are now dying from lifestyle diseases. The toxic pollutants from the mine tailings continues to cause unusual medical disorders in those living along the OK Tedi and Fly River systems and also causing bizarre deaths”

“BHP (Australia) started mining by making bad decisions with total disregard for human lives. It was a death sentence for the people of Western Province. They even put an indemnity clause in the Ninth Supplemental Agreement so that no lawsuits will be taken up against BHP for any environmental damage from mine operations and this was supported by the government of PNG which has compromised the regulatory aspect of the mine”

The statement stated that as a shareholder, the government of PNG was more concerned about profits from the mine rather than protecting the environment.

“The government has compromised our environmental laws by listening to utter rubbish from BHP. This is inhuman and of course legally unconstitutional. I cannot understand that our own government put and approve laws through influence by a developer that would cause cultural genocide in Western Province.

BHP never left PNG because one can see the same colours in PNGSDP. Who is PNGSDP one may ask? Who do they work for? What tangible benefits do they bring to Western Province? Many of the projects that PNGSDP has implemented in the province are not sustainable but are now becoming a burden to the people who see it as BHP leaving its liabilities behind. So much money goes to hiring very expensive consultants overseas who have done things that do not benefit the province and its people. There is so much duplication that millions of kina have been wasted and more rubbish is thrown at the people.

Western Province is not a dumping ground but BHP and the national government have made it as a rubbish dump. This is an insult to our people and we cannot allow it to continue”

In 2013, a new agreement will be drawn which will be drafted by the provincial government which will determine the shares and equity participation.

Spotted in the Post Courier


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