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13.12.2005 Regional News

WACAM condemns disposal faecal matter into Asuopre Stream

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Accra, Dec. 13, GNA - The Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM) has condemned the disposal of faecal matter from the sewerage of Newmont Ahafo Mine in Kenyase area into community streams. A statement signed by Mr Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, Executive Director of WACAM, and made available to the GNA said. "WACAM received complaints from community people concerning the disposal of faecal matter from the sewerage of Newmont Ahafo Mine in Kenyase area into community streams.

"Our investigations have confirmed that Newmont had been disposing faecal matter from the sewerage of its mine camp in Kenyase through pipes and a gutter, which flows into a small pond created from River Asuopre. The water in the pond, which is contaminated, is then directed through a hidden pipe into the main River Asuopre, which happens to be the only source of drinking water for most communities. "The faecal sludge disposed into the pond has a bad stench and Newmont has put up caution signpost that the faecal sludge is contaminated thus confirming the pollution of the pond, which is discharged into River Asuopre.

The statement said: "Unknown to the communities that the there was faecal disposal into the stream, communities like Kwakyekrom and farmers from Ntotroso and Kenyase, who farm around the area continued to drink from River Asuopre. River Asuopre flows into river Tano, which is treated downstream and distributed to a number of big towns like Hwidiem and Acherensua.

"The revelation of the disposal of faecal matter into River Asuopre though shocking, we are aware that Newmont continues to dispose mine waste through pipes into the sea in its operations in Indonesia despite persistent complaints against the disposal of mine waste into the sea popularly known as Submarine Tailings Disposal. "In defence of its disposal of mine waste into the sea in Indonesia, Mr Wayne Murdy, the Chief Executive Officer of Newmont, responded to the query on the Company's disposal of mine waste into the ocean in Indonesia at the Annual Shareholders meeting in Denver in Apri1 2005 by saying that when gold is extracted from the soil, what remained was sand, inferring that mine waste could be disposed anywhere.

"Although WACAM believes that Newmont has a bad policy on its mine waste disposal in other parts of the world, disposal of faecal matter into community streams is sacrilegious and an act which degrades the dignity of the people, whose only crime is that they happen to live in areas of gold deposits, which Newmont is extracting for profit."

The statement said: "The disposal of faecal matter into the community streams could be likened to a biological warfare against unsuspecting poor communities living on their indigenous lands. For WACAM, the reason for the disposal of faecal matter into community stream is not because Newmont wants to reduce the cost of its operations, neither is it accidental nor ignorance."

It said: "A study of how the disposal facility was established convinces WACAM that it was a deliberate act to establish a ground situation of polluted streams before Newmont formally commences its operations in 2006. For example, when Goldfields Ghana Limited spilled cyanide into River Asuman in October 2001, Mr Richard Graeme, who was then the Managing Director of the Company, attempted to create the impression through an advertisement that the cyanide pollution was not as serious as the faecal pollution of River Asuman and the impression was that the community people had polluted their own drinking stream with faecal matter.

"There have been similar experiences of faecal matter disposal into community streams by some mining companies operating in the Wassa West District in the past and the companies tried to blame mining communities for the pollution. Community people have a spiritual relationship and special attachment to their drinking streams and it is unthinkable for community people to pollute their own drinking streams with faecal matter.

The statement said: "Newmont paid 700,000 dollars to the Colorado University in USA to conduct community health assessment in their concessions in Ghana and Peru. The report indicated a stress on community water due to influx of people to Kenyase to seek employment in the Newmont Ahafo Mine. By polluting community streams with faecal matter, Newmont is worsening the water stress situation and also creating public health problems for the people in the area. "We condemn the unethical and irresponsible mining practice of disposing faecal matter from sewerage of Newmont into community streams.

Though community people have informed us of the desperate attempts of Newmont to cover up all incriminating evidence of this disgraceful act, there is enough evidence to prove the deliberate disposal of faecal matter from the sewerage of the mine into River Asuopre. "WACAM calls on Parliament to see this as a challenge and use the opportunity created by the review of the mining law to enact laws that would protect the environment and mining communities from such irresponsible behaviours of some mining companies. "WACAM is calling on the Commissioner for the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) to institute independent investigations into Newmont's disposal of faecal matter into River Asuopre.

Commenting on spillage earlier Newmont said: " The Ahafo Project has a sewage and waste water treatment plant, which treats waste before it is discharged. The plant uses the "Activated Sludge Process", a biological treatment process, which reduces levels of organic waste matter and treats bacteria. Such plants are used throughout the world to manage sewage and wastewater. The facility produces safe effluent for discharge in the form of a clear water and sludge effluent. In the case of the facility at Ahafo, the sludge is collected and hauled away to a municipal treatment facility in Kumasi for further processing.

Newmont said: "There was a recent overflow experienced as a result of increased volumes of sludge that exceeded existing capacity to collect and dispose in a timely fashion. The overflow went into a rainwater ditch, which drains into an environmental control dam constructed on the premises to mitigate any potential overflows. It is important to note that water within these areas is not designed for human consumption and as such, signage and verbal communications have been made to the surrounding communities not to consume water on the premises. NGGL has taken immediate steps to remedy the situation and prevent a recurrence.

It said: The Ahafo project sewage and wastewater treatment plant has been built in accordance with international standards. NGGL monitors effluent weekly to compare quality with the discharge limits set by the Ghana EPA Standard for Mining and Minerals Processing and the NGGL Ghana Projects Standards. These outline the quality discharge limits for different microbiological, chemical and physical aspects.

"Current works to remedy and prevent a recurrence of this situation include: increasing the rate of activated sludge removal to Kumasi including 24 hour monitoring of the treatment plant process to ensure the ongoing production of suitable effluent and efficiently manage the quantity being produced; cleansing of the discharge channel; continuation of water quality monitoring of discharge and effluent monitoring to ensure ongoing compliance with Ghana EPA and NGGL environmental requirements; discontinuing any further discharge of treated effluent until results expected tomorrow confirm no impacts or degradation of water quality further downstream.

Newmont said the water in the area was previously seasonal. The presence of the system improved water reliability and NGGL have had repeated requests to restore the water flow. As we await confirmation of our results, we are making potable water available to farmers and cottages in the surrounding area of the Environmental Control Dam. " Newmont are confident that recent equipment additions to the plant and increased operational surveillance and action will mitigate this problem and prevent recurrence in the future. NGGL continues to be committed to applying the effort and resources required towards achieving the best possible health, safety and environmental standards. This issue is being treated with the highest priority and concern by all Project members to ensure appropriate management and to prevent recurrence of similar situations in the future."

Reacting to WACAM statement Newmont said: "We refer to our release dated 7th December 2005. We wish to restate that the Ahafo Project's management team is treating the overflow incident experienced by the sewage facility at its site with the very highest priority. "There is absolutely no truth to any allegations that we have been "disposing of faecal matter..." into the River Asuopre or any other community water sources nor that we are purposely doing so. The facility did experience an upset overflow condition into a channel but this was captured in a redundant system made up of a series of environmental safeguards constructed on the premises to mitigate any potential overflows.

"Preliminary results indicate that the EPA limits have been exceeded. We are however currently confirming this and we will report fully to the EPA as required. Our weekly water testing is also ongoing to confirm that water further downstream is in compliance with Ghana EPA Standards. However, as indicated, in the interim, we have discontinued any further discharge of treated effluent from the facility into the channel and made available alternative sources of water to any farmers downstream of the Environmental Control Dam #3 (ECD 3). In addition, we have met with up to fifteen farmers downstream to confirm any concerns and assess general health status. Although we have not received any formal complaints we will continue the engagement activities and if any complaints do arise, we will work with the local health service authorities to respond.

"Our earlier news release also disclosed the fact that this is a sewage and waste water treatment facility which produces safe effluent for discharge. In that regard, we have put in place signage and verbal communications to the surrounding communities not to consume water on the premises. Indeed, treated water discharged within the premises of any sewage treatment facility is not meant for human consumption and as such, the company has communicated this to farmers and cottages in the surrounding area.

"There is therefore absolutely no truth to any allegations that there is an attempt by Newmont to "deliberately establish polluted streams...using a hidden pipe.." ahead of mine operations. Indeed, to date, the company has invested approximately USD $2 million on community water and sanitation activities. Newmont Ghana views itself as part of the community, sharing infrastructure and working in partnership with various stakeholders to harness the collective benefits of the project.

The company will therefore remain focused on collaborating to protect the resources we all use as the project moves forward. Newmont Ghana reiterates its commitment to responding proactively, with support from the communities to meet the challenges of running a world class socially and environmentally sound mine operation. The company will therefore continue to fully disclose key aspects of its project work to stakeholders, actively seek feedback and build consensus on managing issues of concern should they arise. "It is completely untrue that there is any attempt on the part of the Company to hide any details of this incident. When upset conditions occur across any of our project facilities around the world, we immediately run procedures to execute mitigation controls and assess any potential impacts. In addition, because we are currently in an operational mode, we do report regularly and are required to meet not only Ghana EPA Standards but our own project standards upon which we are internally and externally assessed.

"Newmont has always recognized and respected the traditional attachment of the communities to their water sources. That is the context in which the company conducted a socio-cultural survey earlier in the project's development to understand the cultural significance of water in the communities. This is also why the company performed traditional purification rites as stipulated by traditional religious authorities before initiating project work associated with water in the communities. "Again, Newmont are confident that recent equipment additions to the plant and increased operational surveillance and action will mitigate the overflow incident and prevent recurrence in the future.