Last month yet another mining disaster occurred — though unsurprisingly, it received no international press coverage.
Pollution from a zinc mine waste dump in the mining town of Ridder, Kazakhstan, spilled into the Ulba and Filippovka rivers, which flows near the Kazakhstan-Russian border, and headed toward the Siberian city of Omsk. Pictures of the polluted river look like freshwater was replaced by wet concrete. Reports from local partners say the waste contained cyanide and excess minerals such as zinc, lead copper and manganese, though mining and government officials downplayed the severity of the spill and presence of toxins.
Our colleagues in the area partners say the spill happened due to “worn-out” sewer system that had not been updated since 1970. (Quote from a translation of this article). Officials are further investigating the cause of the disaster.
As is too often the case, it's unclear whether the official reports are valid, and what the long-term harms will be.
One thing we do know though: The mine's operators, Kazzinc Inc Ltd., is a subsidiary of Glencore, one of the largest multinational mining companies in the world. Yet this Swiss behemoth has made no public statement responding to the spill — perhaps because the company is looking to sell the operation.
As we try to uncover more information about this spill, we call on Glencore to release information about its cause as well as its plans to mitigate the environmental damage. Glencore should take responsibility, regardless of whether the public is watching or not, and undertake comprehensive clean-up of contaminated water, soil and land affected by the spill. Glencore must take steps to ensure that communities living downstream are kept safe from its impacts – and that such a disaster never repeats itself.
Glencore is a member of the International Council on Metals and Minerals (ICMM), an association of the world’s largest mining companies – which ironically, is currently conducting a review of mine waste disposal safety around the globe. ICMM must ensure that Glencore is transparent, financially responsible and accountable for the Kazakh disaster — or remove the company from its membership immediately.