By Morten Rønning
The Porgera mine, which is owned by an Australian mining company and the State of Papua New Guinea, releases all of its waste directly into the Strickland- and the Fly-river.
The first stretch of 140 kilometres of the Strickland river, from the mine downstream, where about 7.000 indigenous people live, has been declared by the authorities as “sacrificial zone”. There are no waste discharge restrictions or monitoring imposed on the company. It is only below this area that the level of toxic substances is monitored.
In addition, OK Tedi, a mine that has been strongly criticised, located further west in the country, discharges its waste in the same river system.
The Porgera File report, that uncover the serious environmental problems at the mine, was published in December 1995 by the Mineral Policy Institute of Autsralia. Philip Sherman from the Independent and Community Rights Advocacy Forum in PNG has written the report. His work is based on his own monitoring of the river, the company’s monitoring and interviews with local people.
According to the Porgera File report, the indigenous people in the area reported many deaths caused by poisoning. Sherman also proves deaths as a result of eating pork and sago, an important component of the people’s diet in the area. He refers to Owen Lora, the District Manager of Lake Kopiago District office, who in 1993 reported 133 “unnatural” deaths for the period between 1991 and 1993. Lora reported that the symptoms for these deaths were sudden “unnatural” high fever, dysentery and breathing difficulties.
Recently, arsenic poisoning was assumed to be the cause of a death at the Sopas Hospital.
The indigenous people have also reported that incidences of illness have increased in general.
It is this strongly criticised mine that Dyno Wesfarmers, owned 50% by the Norwegian Dyno Industrier, supplies with explosives.
The Head of Information at Dyno Explosives, Brad Larson, gave the following comment about the Porgera File report to NorWatch:
“We at Dyno are not engaged in any political activity in the countries where we operate. I assume that the report has been sent to the relevant authorities, and we will adjust according to their instructions, if they have found anything to criticise at our factory. The operation of the mine is not Dyno’s job. We supply first class explosives to the mine and contribute in this way to a safer working situation and higher standards of living.”
Reduced hunting and fishing
According to the Porgera File Report, the mining activities have had serious impacts on the life style of the local population. Access to fishery resources is badly impaired. This is due to both the reduced fish stock, as well as the local population’s fear of being poisoned by the fish. The inhabitants living along upper and lower Strickland river believes it is dangerous to eat the fish.
The population along the upper Strickland river, according to the report, have also stopped hunting for fear of being poisoned by the animals. Fish, crocodiles, tortoises, and kasovar birds have been found dead, poisoned by the river water. As a result, the crocodile trade has been reduced.
The only farming area that is arable, the river banks, are deteriorated because the banks are flooded and filled up with waste and sediments from the mining activities. A few patches of land are buried, from a foot to a meter, with a sediment coating. The people claim that neither bananas nor tuberous roots will grow any longer in the area.
According to Porgera Joint Venture’s own figures, the waste which is deposited on the river bed is as much as six feet deep. This has made the river shallow and increased its flow velocity, making its use for travel difficult.
In the upper part of the Strickland river, the concentration of heavy metals are far above the permitted levels for both Papua New Guinea and Australia. The river is considered very polluted. Even though the arsenic content is eventually diluted, the value 65 kilometres downstream is still high. Samples taken at the gauging station, 140 kilometres from the mine, showed that the content of arsenic, mercury and lead were respectively 10, 16 and 3 times higher than normal.
The mining license issued by the authorities does not in any way regulate the discharge of mercury. In 1995, the lead content a kilometre from the discharge area measured 2.300 times higher than the permitted level in Australia. At Wanikipe, 80 kilometres below the discharge area, the lead content was 32 times higher, while zinc and mercury were respectively 10 and 9 times higher than the permitted level in Australia. The figures originate from both Philip Shearman and PJV’s own quarterly report.
“We are not familiar with these figures” says Larson at Dyno’s headquarter in Oslo.
Dyno in Papua New Guinea
Dyno Industrier AS owns 50% of Dyno Wesfarmers Ltd; which produces explosives and detonators in Porgera for Porgera Joint Venture, a gold and silver mine.
The biggest shareholder in Dyno is Hydro Invest (38.4%), Orkla (18.1%) and Folketrygdfondet (6%). Besides explosives Dyno is mainly engaged in the manufacturing of chemicals and plastics.
Accident kills 11
In 1994, an accident at Dyno Wesfarmers’s factory at Porgera (DWL) killed 11 employees. The responsibility for the accident is still under dispute.
On the 2nd of August 1994, Dyno’s explosive- and detonator-factory at Porgera was exposed to two powerful explosions. At the time of the explosion there were 13 workers in the factory, of whom only 2 survived with serious injuries.
In addition, there were other employees in buildings further away who were injured by window panes that were blown in and furniture that were overturned. The two employees who survived were rescued because at the time of the first explosion they were working inside a container. The explosion left behind a crater, 30 by 30 meter and10 metres deep.
It is not usual for explosives and detonators (ignitions) to be manufactured in the same area. This was done at Porgera due to transport difficulties and the climate.
Accused of unprofessional management
The Ministry of Oil and Mining in Papua New Guinea carried out a thorough investigation at the site after the accident, with statements from witnesses, investigation of the remains and technical tests of the machinery. In January 1995, the Ministry presented its report which was very critical to DWL’s management at Porgera
The conclusion of the report was that DWL did not maintain the expected professional standards required for such production. Inspection showed a deviation of 38% for storage records. Further, the routine for running the factory and the maintenance of production equipment has been described as below the expected professional standard. The Ministry also criticised DWL for not giving the employees necessary training, and for using local unskilled workers in production that demanded skilled labour. It was also documented that smaller accidents at the factory had not been reported to the authorities, as required.
DWL’s Administrative Director, Bill Garrison jr., and several other employees were charged as a consequence of the report. DWL, on its part, immediatly denied responsibility.
Since then, the authorities in Papua New Guinea have decided to have a public hearing on the accident, while charges against DWL employees were being dropped pending this. According to Dyno, the hearing started in January this year and is expected to be finished by August. The company has constructed a new production plant at the site since the accident.
Norwatch Newsletter 6/96