Yesterday an Indonesian Court threw out charges against the world’s largest gold producer, Newmont Mining Corporation, not because the company might be innocent, but because the company had a deal with the Indonesian government whereby disputes are to be settled by arbitration.
At issue is whether the company polluted Buyat bay in northern Sulawesi with mercury and arsenic.
According to ABC Online and other reports, a government-commissioned probe and a police study concluded that the bay was polluted, but several other studies, including by the World Health Organisation and the Indonesian Health Ministry, did not support that charge.
I can’t find the WHO report or study undertaken by the Minimata Institute on the internet. I would appreciated links from anyone who does happen to stumble across one or other of the reports.
According to the The Jakarta Post on October 4 last year this is what the reports concluded:
A laboratory test by Japan’s Minamata institute and the World Health Organization (WHO) shows the mercury levels in hair samples taken from residents living at Buyat Bay in North Sulawesi were normal, the Ministry of Health said on Sunday.
Ministry director general of communicable disease Umar Fahmi said the level of mercury in the residents’ hair was 2.65 micro grams per gram or around one-twentieth of the dangerous level of 50 set by WHO.
“It indicates a normal level of mercury content in human body. The level is equivalent with the mercury content found in healthy Japanese citizens,” Umar told The Jakarta Post.
The WHO study apparently also looked at mercury levels in fish and I think sediment?
According to my colleagues Mike Nahan and Don D’Cruz:
Like virtually all the foreign owned mining ventures in Indonesia, NMR [Newmont Mining Corporation] was from its inception subjected to a campaign by ‘local’ NGOs backed and funded by western activists.
In the case of the campaign against NMR, this included: the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), the Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsham), KELOLA and the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), aka Friends of the Earth Indonesia, just to name a few.
… When the appropriate Indonesian government ministers dismissed, on expert advice, the claims of the NGOs, the NGOs filed lawsuits against them.
With the assistance of friendly ‘experts’, these claims were successfully promoted in the West, such as in a recent New York Times feature story.
What the New York Times and its NGO sources ignored was the considerable body of evidence that directly contradicted the NGO line.
Shortly after the New York Times ran the story in September, the Indonesians National Police arrested six of NMR’s most senior executives (one was released due to health risks) on charges based on the NGO claims that the NMR and its executives knowingly polluted the Bay and damaged the livelihood and health of the local community.
The fact that the action took place only as mining was coming to an end fed rumours that charges had been created to force a pay-out from Newmont before the mine closed.
There is information at the Newmont website responding to articles in the New York Times including:
The Times points out that the Minahasa roaster facility emitted approximately 17 tons of mercury into the atmosphere over a four and one-half year period. While the Times makes this seem like a significant quantity, this level of emissions complied with all applicable US and Indonesian air quality regulations. It is not a level of emissions that would cause any human health impacts to nearby residents.
In many ways it is a pity the case is not going to trial, so all the evidence could be laid out. But then again, who gets a fair trial in Indonesia?
The Newmont website also has a detailed history of gold, click here. This year saw the price of gold reach a 17 year record at US$480 an ounce in October. Is the price going to keep going up?