Independent researchers detect high levels of pollution around North Mara gold mine

The following article is one that I referred to in my first and second letters to the Prime Minister of Canada. The article was published in the Tanzanian newspaper ThisDay on Tuesday, July 14th, 2009. Since both the original link on the ThisDay website and the Google-cached version for this article have disappeared, I’m including it below. If you look around elsewhere on the internet, then you’ll see that this article has already been recorded on several other websites. The article is written by Damas Mwita and is copyright Thisday Ltd.


July 14 2009, ThisDay

Independent researchers detect high levels of pollution around North Mara gold mine

DAMAS MWITA
Dar es Salaam

INDEPENDENT experts have confirmed the presence of high levels of toxic chemicals in the area surrounding Barrick Gold Corp’s North Mara gold mine in Tarime District, Mara Region.

A three-member panel of local researchers has established that there are significantly high levels of poisonous heavy metals and cyanide in the environment around the mine.

According to the researchers, levels of nickel in the area have risen 260 times, levels of lead are up times 168, and chromium levels have also multiplied by 14 compared to the last time tests were conducted in the area about seven years ago.

The researchers were Dr Mkabwa Manoko from the University of Dar es Salaam’s department of botany, Manfred Bitala, and Charles Kweyunga.

’’The various health effects associated with heavy metal poisoning include a wide range of casinogenic effects such as skin, kidney, teratogenic effects; mutagenic effects; and brain damage,’’ they said in their report unveiled in Dar es Salaam yesterday.

They said the symptoms displayed by some villagers living near the mine are consistent with poisoning from heavy metals.

The researchers stated that the levels of heavy metals and cyanide in areas surrounding the mine owned by Canada’s mining giant Barrick Gold Corp are much higher than national and international standards.

The researchers found high levels of pollution in the soil and water samples near the mine.

’’Some people in the area show various disease symptoms, such as skin diseases that can be linked to heavy metal pollution. However, a more thorough study is required for this to be confirmed,’’ says part of their report.

’’In fact, some (medical) conditions caused by these pollutants do not show immediate or observable symptoms. Lack of symptoms therefore does not mean absence of health problems,’’ it adds.

The researchers recommended that an ’’intensive environmental audit’’ of the area be conducted involving local and international scientists from both Government and non-governmental organs

’’Since the level of heavy metals, cyanide and soil and water pollution around the North Mara gold mine project are higher than permissible levels, thus (posing) a threat to the survival of organisms (animal and plant life), this audit will be to assess the impact of any such pollution on the ecosystem in the area,’’ they said.

They warned that communities living around the mine are in danger of being exposed to hazardous chemicals from the Tigithe River and surrounding soil and vegetation.

’’If these chemicals find their way into the human body through direct indigestion of contaminated food, drinking water, or air, their health problems become of major concern,’’ explained Bitala, one of the researchers.

The researchers’ report also highlights some possible effects of exposure to such heavy metals and toxic chemicals like cyanide, as being cancer, heart disease, genetic problems, loss of memory, respiratory complications, and reproduction organs.

It notes that health hazards from exposure to such pollution could persist for more than 2,000 years.

The independent study, commissioned by several religious groups based in Dar es Salaam, was carried out in Kwimanga, Kwinyunyi, and Nyabigena Villages around River Tigithe in Tarime District, Mara Region.

As part of the study, samples of water and soil sediments were collected and analysed for four heavy metals – nickel, cadmium, lead and chromium – using atomic absorption spectrometer (AAS), while cyanide was analysed using pyridine and levels of acid.

Another researcher, Dr Manoko, criticised a previous report produced by the North Mara mine management in May this year, which claimed that the water in the Tigithe River was safe.

He said it was not feasible to reach such a conclusion without testing the level of heavy metals and cyanide present in the water.

The director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) in Dar es Salaam, Francis Kiwanga, similarly criticised the Government for failing to take stern measures against the gold mine management for polluting the environment.

’’There is a reluctance among senior Government officials to act immediately despite preliminary evidence showing that the mine has indeed polluted the environment,’’ Kiwanga asserted.

Public pressure has been mounting on the Government to shut down operations at the North Mara gold mine pending an ongoing investigation into reports of potentially deadly health hazards caused by the mine.

The Minister of State in the Vice President’s Office (Environment), Dr Batilda Buriani, has told THISDAY that samples from villagers reported to be already displaying symptoms of the pollution have been taken to the Government Chemist Laboratory Agency and health centres for analysis.

Results of the various tests being carried out are due out within a few days, Dr Buriani said.


This article is copyright ThisDay Ltd.

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2 Responses to “Independent researchers detect high levels of pollution around North Mara gold mine”

  1. rose Says:

    what are d level of heavy metals in soil around d mining area

    • operationwatch Says:

      Hi Rose,

      Thank you very much for your question. It’s an excellent question. It’s the kind of question that I was hoping I could persuade my government to be interested in.

      I’ll give you a link to what appears to be the report that this article refers to. That way you can read it for yourself and use your own judgement to get any information that you can get from it. The report is titled “Levels of Heavy Metals and Cyanide in Soil, Sediment and Water from the Vicinity of North Mara Gold Mine in Tarime District, Tanzania” and is authored by Manfred F Bitala, Charles Kweyunga and Mkabwa LK Manoko. It’s available here:
      http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/59161 .
      Note the photo that they put on that page of effluent running from a pipe is not of the North Mara mine and is not from the report that the page links to.

      After that study, another one was conducted that involved two of the authors of the study above, plus a research scientist from a Norwegian university. Since it was conducted later, we can expect that the conditions of the environment changed between the two studies. This second report is titled “IPM Report 2009: Investigations of Trace Metal Concentrations in Soil, Sediments and Waters in the vicinity of Geita Gold Mine and North Mara Gold Mine in North West Tanzania” and is authored by Åsgeir R Almås, Charles Kweyunga and Mkabwa LK Manoko. You can find a copy of that study at this link: http://www.miningwatch.ca/en/dangerous-levels-arsenic-found-near-tanzania-mine

      I hope that helps. If there’s anything that I can help you to understand (and possibly help myself to understand since I’m also learning), then within the constraints of the time that I have I will be happy to do so.

      I’m not aware of any empirical data available from the mining company itself on what the levels of toxic metals and cyanide are or have been in the area around the mine.

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