In June 2004, the Newmont Minahasa Raya (NMR) gold mine in Indonesia will shut down. Colorado-based Newmont is the world's most profitable gold mining company. Newmont touts its policies for social and environmental responsibility, but when it closes its mine in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, it will leave local communities impoverished, sick and angry. The people of Buyat Bay and Ratatokok face long-lasting environmental damage on land and sea, economic decline, and a host of health problems believed to be related to the mining operation. An international outcry is needed to stop Newmont from walking away from the mess it made in these communities where agriculture and fishing thrived until the company arrived.
After seven years of mining, the scars on the landscape are visible - six open pits where Newmont extracted 4.78 million tons of ore. But the greatest damage is invisible. Beginning in 1996, the NMR gold mine dumped more than 4 million tons of highly toxic mine wastes into Buyat Bay - a staggering 2000 tons a day. Ocean dumping, also known as Submarine Tailings Disposal (STD), is cheap and convenient for mining companies, but it is banned in many developed countries because of harmful environmental and health impacts. Laden with heavy metals and other toxins, mine tailings are a grave ecological concern in coastal waters because these are the richest and most fragile regions of the oceans. Many open-ocean species also depend on coastal habitat during critical parts of their life cycles.
Newmont piped its tailings 5 miles from the shore into Buyat Bay and dumped them at a depth of 82 meters - dangerously shallow compared to most STD operations. The toxic tailings didn't just stay put. Upwelling currents scattered them, and breaking pipes caused spills that affected shallower waters, coral reefs and sea grasses. Additional contaminants and sedimentation flowed into the sea from rivers carrying waste from Newmont's mine.
A 2003 report by the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) found that Newmont's tailings contain four times the government-allowed level of cyanide and high levels of mercury, cadmium, and arsenic. Toxicologists from Sam Ratulangi University in North Sulawesi had found similar results in 1999 and recommended that the tailings disposal system be redesigned. Newmont ignored their recommendations and disputes such studies. But disastrous impacts of the Minahasa Raya mine are obvious.
Residents of Buyat Bay suffer symptoms consistent with mercury and arsenic poisoning, including skin rashes, body sores, severe headaches, tumors, and reproductive health problems. Poisoning of the marine environment has caused fish kills and tumors in fish, leading to a collapse of the local fishery, the major source of food and income for the people of Buyat Bay. Farming families in Ratatokok also lost their livelihoods when Newmont paid them less than one US cent per square meter for their land.
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