Porgera Pollution

Maddog (Christopher.Morgan@JCU.EDU.AU)
Thu, 7 Dec 1995 11:00:32 +1000

G'day folks,

I scanned the following article from this morning's (7/12/95) 'Australian'
newspaper FYI - it seems that BHP isn't the only Ugly Australian engaged in
environmental vandalism in PNG. It's also worth noting that the Porgera
River is a tributary of the Fly system - as is the Ok Tedi.


Journalist goes for gold in new PNG poison scandal
- Sue Willams

When Walkley Award winning 'Dateline' journalist Kerry Brewster went over
to Papua New Guinea to investigate BHP's operations, she discovered that
environmental controversy isn't confined simply to the copper mine at Ok

Increasingly, the spotlight is also being shone on the mine that has become
PNG's economically second most important, the gold mine at Porgera, which
is partly owned by two other Australian companies, Mount Isa Mines and
Rennison Goldfields.

While the mine has been operational for five years, producing more than 6
million ounces of gold in that time, it also dumps about 40,000 cubic
metres of treated tailings into the Porgera River each day.

And locals are adamant that it's the chemicals contained in these tailings
that are killing off their fish, their animals and, now, their people.

"A local doctor's report into a man's death earlier this year said he died
of chemical poisoning," says Brewster, who won a Walkley last year for her
report on the environmental effects of a mine in Queenstown, Tasmania.

"He confirmed his symptoms were consistent with arsenic poisoning."

A commanity rights group in Port Moresby, concerned that villagers had no
real evidence to back up their claims, then encouraged a scientist at the
University of Tasmania to conduct some tests on the quality of the water
flowing in the Porgera River.

Phillip Shearman discovered quantities of arsenic and mercury among the
other heavy metals contained in his samples. Further, he claims that the
water contains 64 times as much mercury as it did prior to the mine's

"People started telling me how interesting the Porgera mine is because what
they're dumping into the river is potentially more toxic than was being
dumped by the BHP mine," says Brewster, whose story on the mine goes to air
on Saturday.

"It's sort of an invisible story. With copper, it's easy to see the damage.
With this, you can't see the heavy metals in the river, although people
claim these are there and that they're killing people. The problem is that
the villages are all so remote-they're completely disempowered."

Locals have been complaining to their district centres and government
ministers for some time, but so far, their protests have fallen on deaf
ears. When Brewster interviewed the environment minister, at first he even
denied he'd ever been told of problems. Later he admitted the claims had
been investigated by his department.

"Certainly, they're right up against the wall because this mine is partly
owned by the PNG Government and the revenue is very important," says
Brewster. "The rules were relaxed to allow it to go ahead. The cost of a
tailings dam would have prohibited the company building the mine. But the
locals' claims haven't been taken seriously. And there is a case for trying
to present evidence that shows the Australian companies involved are able
to manipulate the rules to maximise their profits."

'Dateline', SBS at 7:30pm. Saturday (7pm South Australia).

Bow Wow,

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? Christopher J. Morgan % Tel: +61 77 81 4304 ?
% Dept of Anthropology & Archaeology ? FAX: +61 77 79 5435 %
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