VIEWPOINT- Tailings dam pollution issue: TSI

Gold ridge tailings Dam
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TRANSPARENCY Solomon Islands (TSI) commends the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management & Meteorology (MECCDMM) for recognizing and admitting to the Chairman of Kolobisi Tailings Dam Association [KTDA] that Gold Ridge Mining Limited has acted illegally and irresponsibly in discharging untreated water from the Tailings Storage Facility [TSF] into the Tinahulu River.

Tinahulu River system, a river and environment that is used extensively for everything by the Metapona Downstream population was alleged contaminated with cyanide discharged from the tailing dam.  

Thus, TSI called on other authorities to help MECCDMM to deal with the matter in the criminal court of law.

In the Ministry’s correspondence to the Chairman of KTDA, the Ministry assured them that it has initiated criminal proceedings against the officer and Gold Ridge Mining Limited (GRML) for discharging untreated water from the TSF without any license to do so from the Director of Environment and Conservation. 

This is a very welcome action from the responsible ministry and one that should be recognized, and more importantly one that the operators of the mine should take serious note of. On the 14th of April 2021, an engineer of the GRML released untreated TSF water into the Tinahulu River and the surround environment. 

The treatment of the TSF water before discharging has always been the demand of Metapona Down Stream Association [MDA] and KTDA and their people of previous companies operating the mine and it should not be any different for the current company. People’s lives, livelihoods and environment must be protected at all times.

The action of this one engineer discharging untreated TSF water into the environment around the TSF and the river system is irresponsible and criminal and he should be fired for his conduct.

In the TSF were water from the processing plant which contained both Cyanide and arsenic both very toxic to many living organisms at low concentrations.

Aquatic Organisms: Fish and aquatic invertebrates are particularly sensitive to cyanide exposure.

Exposure to Cyanide poisoning can cause the following symptoms in people according to literature on this; early symptoms include headachedizzinessfast heart rateshortness of breath, and vomiting.

This phase may then be followed by seizuresslow heart ratelow blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and cardiac arrest. Onset of symptoms usually occurs within a few minutes.

Some survivors have long-term neurological problems. These are effects that the KTDA and the MDA communities should be protected against. 

The Mining Company has been there for more than a year and for them to mine, the first thing they must attend to is the treatment of the TSF water before it is discharged. 

This is a priority so one questions why they have not attended to this urgently. Do they know what they are doing?

The threat of the Tailing Storage Facility to both human and the environment is very serious and must not be taken lightly by the government. 

The impact of any irresponsible actions by the current owners of the mine not only threatens the health of the downstream communities but their livelihoods and their life and environment.

The downstream communities through awareness carried out by the Ministry of Environment and both companies that operate the mine previously have placed these communities in a more knowledgeable level about the consequences of anything going wrong with the TSF.

Their worries are real, and this irresponsible action does not speak well for the new company.  In the past there were reports of threats of the Tailing Storage Facility likely overflow due to continuous heavy rain.

The Ministry of Mines given the fear both real and perceived must impress upon the company to build the treatment plant as they did with the previous company and leave no stone unturned protecting people and environment from any such irresponsible and illegal action by officers of GRML.

Metapona river in North Guadalcanal, which many communities at the Guadalcanal plains rely on for washing and bathing must remain safe for them to do use.

 An independent research carried out by local scientist some years back, Dickson Boboria uncovered interesting findings of the presence of cyanide in the river and coastal area of Guadalcanal plains.

This needs further investigation to locate the source and those responsible or actions that resulted in these findings.

And given the report that workers of the GRML were discharging the Tailing Storage Facility into the environment is a serious concern that demands responsible authorities including police to further investigate and arrest those responsible and hold them accountable.

Thus, Transparency fully supports the move by MECCDMM quote “the ministry has initiated criminal proceedings against the officer and GRML for discharging water from Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) without appropriate license from the Director of Environment and Conservation.

The Attorney General’s Office has been informed and already communicated on behalf of the Ministry a formal complaint to Director of Public Prosecution and the matter has now been referred to Police for investigation. 

Be assured that the Ministry does not condone such reckless behaviour and is committed to see this matter taken through the justice system.”

Reports reaching TSI had it that some workers of the company were digging a runaway for the tailing dam to find its way out into the river.

If this report is true then those responsible must be arrested, jailed, and pay compensation to the communities affected.

Transparency Solomon Islands applauds the action taken by the responsible ministry and urge the community to be on the watch out and to look after yourselves and your environment.

It is hoped that this will not be repeated. It is the duty and responsibility of the government, the Mines Division to monitor but obviously they have not done so. 

The worry here is where there is road, and close vicinity of Honiara where their office is located, they are unable to monitor what is going on. 

How much more for mines that they are working on approving when these are located in Choiseul or Isabel etc.

People want to help in these provinces, but they do not want loggers turned miners. 

They want government to find reputable mining companies to extract the mineral from their land not loggers turned miners.

Engaging reputable mining companies will go a long way into keeping people and environment safe than those who seem to think they can do just as they please.