PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Mining company won't compensate villagers

Issue 

Mining company won't compensate PNG villagers

BY JIM GREEN

Dome Resources, the Australian mining company responsible for a spill of 100 to 150 kilograms of sodium cyanide in Papua New Guinea on March 21, says it does not plan to pay compensation for the full effects of the spill.

A pallet carrying sodium cyanide to a company goldmine fell from a net slung beneath a helicopter on March 21. Michael Silver, managing director of Dome Resources, said on April 9 that the company would pay compensation to local landowners only for trees and scrub cleared from the immediate spill site to enable helicopters to land and for crews to decontaminate and remove the soil.

The results of tests conducted by Greenpeace, released on April 13, reveal that cyanide levels of 2800 parts per million were recorded on the soil surface at the spill site near the Yaloga River, about 80 kilometres north of Port Moresby. Levels that high can be fatal, according to Greenpeace Pacific coordinator Arlene Griffen, and the result indicates an incomplete clean-up.

Sediment from the creek 30 metres downstream had levels of 5.4 parts per million, which is 25 times US drinking water standards. Samples taken at the closest downstream village, Inaia, 15 kilometres away from the spill, showed no detectable levels of cyanide above 50 parts per billion.

Griffen said, "While this gives some assurance that there is no immediate threat to the nearby community, Dome Resources still owes it to the people of PNG to undertake a comprehensive clean-up and testing program".

"Dome must provide evidence of its efforts to clean up the area, as well as regular sampling at all major villages to the mouth of the river for at least the next four weeks. Results of the sampling should be immediately made public. We also call on Domes Resources to continue to provide fresh water to all villages down to the mouth of the river", Griffen said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation is calling on the Australian government to introduce legislation to govern the conduct of Australian corporations overseas. The call follows three recent environmental disasters involving Australian companies: the PNG cyanide spill, a cyanide spill in Romania in January and the ongoing destruction of PNG's Fly River system caused by BHP's Ok Tedi mine.