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Panel faults company for failing to prevent accident, delays in notifying authorities

Joint release: EARTHWORKS * WACAM

Accra and Washington, 01/21: Ghanaian authorities are fining Denver-based Newmont Mining millions of dollars for negligently spilling cyanide at its Ahafo gold mine in October 2009, resulting in water contamination and fish kills. A Ghanaian Ministerial Panel that evaluated the spill and its aftermath recommended that the company be fined US$ 4.9 million for failing to prevent the spill or to properly report on and investigate the spill.

For the past three months, community members and Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM) have raised concerns about the accident and its aftermath. “The incident brings home the fact that Ghana needs very strong laws to regulate mining operations,” said Daniel Owusu-Koranteng.

The Ministerial Panel report faulted Newmon on several counts: operating multiple water ponds simultaneously, delays in notifying downstream communities and regulatory authorities, and absence of duplicate sampling, among others. In addition, a Ghanaian Environmental Protection Agency report concluded that the Company could have avoided the spill through preventative measures, and that it violated its permit requirement by having inadequate measures to detect and contain any accidental spill of process effluent.

“The cyanide spill at Ahafo underscores the need for much greater scrutiny and caution before mines are approved,” said Scott Cardiff of EARTHWORKS. “The accident and its aftermath are cause for concern, especially given the company’s plans to develop additional gold mines in Ghana.”

Newmont is seeking to expand its mining operations in Ghana. A proposed expansion of the Ahafo mine to the north would displace thousands of people and threaten a forest reserve. If built, the proposed Akyem mine would destroy a quarter of the forest in the Ajenjua Bepo Forest Reserve, would displace thousands of people, and would pose risks of cyanide contamination as well.

The cyanide spill at Ahafo also underscores concerns about the International Cyanide Management Code. The Ahafo mine where the spill occurred was certified by the Code in March 2008 and auditors claimed that the mine was in full compliance with Code standards related to spills at mine sites.

In 2006, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) provided a $125 million loan to Newmont to develop the Ahafo mine project, stating that it would provide expertise and guidance to the company around meeting social and environmental standards.

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