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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Complete Expert Study Shows Buyat Bay in Indonesia
Polluted by Arsenic, Mercury

Newmont Mining at Center of Public Health Controversy

Washington, DC – An Indonesian government-convened panel concluded its studies this week showing that sediment and fish in Buyat Bay, Indonesia, are contaminated with mercury and arsenic at levels that pose a human health risk.  Buyat Bay is the site of Newmont Mining Corporation's Minahasa Raya gold mine, which closed down in August 2004.

The panel was convened by the Indonesian government following allegations that U.S.-based Newmont's gold mine had polluted Buyat Bay and harmed human health. The panel consists of experts drawn from Indonesian government agencies, academia, non-governmental organizations, and technical consultants. Its findings were officially accepted by the Indonesian Environment Minister on Monday.

“This panel which was convened by the government possesses strong credibility and accountability, so all stakeholders should accept and respect its findings, including Newmont,” said P. Raja Siregar from WALHI — Friends of the Earth Indonesia, and a member of the panel.

Some conclusions and recommendations of the panel:

* Arsenic levels in Buyat Bay sediment are about 100 times higher than at control sites (where no mining had occurred).

* Consuming fish from Buyat Bay poses a risk to adults and children. The panel recommended that the consumption of fish from Buyat Bay be reduced.

* Mercury is accumulating in seabed-dwelling (benthic) organisms, which are a crucial part of the food chain. Mercury levels in Buyat Bay benthic organisms were found to be approximately 10 times higher than those at control sites.

* There is no protective thermocline ocean layer, which Newmont's 1994 Environmental Impact Assessment asserted would function as a barrier to prevent mine wastes from spreading in the Bay.

* The panel recommended that the possibility of arsenic poisoning in Buyat Bay residents be investigated, and that the impacts on marine life be monitored for the next 30 years.

The mine, which was operational between 1996 and 2004, used a controversial method of waste disposal called “submarine tailings disposal” which involves piping mine wastes directly into coastal waters.  “Communities shouldn't have to pay the price for a technology of convenience,” says Radhika Sarin, International Campaign Coordinator at Earthworks. “Immediate action must be taken to restore the health and livelihood of Buyat villagers,” she adds.

Buyat Bay residents have reported health problems, including skin disease, tumors, and birth defects. One baby, who later died, was born deformed with lumps on much of her body. Other children in the village suffer from skin diseases that cause ulcerated or peeling flesh. Fishermen in the area have also noted a decline in fish stocks in the bay.

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