Who Should Be Blamed For High Levels Of Toxic Metals In The Blood Of Villagers?

Dr Sylvester Kotapu, a Papua New Guinean doctor who has been working in Australia for some time as a pathology registrar, did a study to determine the blood level of toxic metals (arsenic, lead and mercury) and found that the levels were above the normal expected limits. And Tolokuma Gold Mines has been said to be responsible. And it seems the study and media reports have opened up a canned of stinking worms!

What made me really boil was that apparently the environmental damage done by Tolokuma Mines was known by relevant government authorities and THEY DID NOTHING!! Oxfarm Australia commissioned studies of the water in the Auga-Angabanga river system after local communities raised concerns of social and environmental damage. The published reports were done by Dr Alan Tingay of A & SR Tingay PTY LTD Environmental Scientists. The Oxfarm report was released in 2005 and it seems the results were suppressed. Someone or some people do not want us to know about the environmental damage. Actually there were two studies done. The first was done in 2004 and the follow up study in 2005. You can download the first study here and the second study here.

Let me quote a senior UPNG professor who said this about the Oxfarm report:

“The Oxfam report appears to have been suppressed- or at least not made widely known. The results of Dr. Kotapu’s investigation appear to be quite clear- and to support the Oxfam report- but there also seems to be some attempt to discredit Dr. Kotapu and his report. Huge amounts of money are at stake and the welfare and health of the people depending on the river system appears to be of minor importance – not only to the company but also political leaders and others in high positions”.

And now it seems Dr Kotapu’s credentials are questioned by the mining company in an attempt discredit the report. But Dr Pomat, the president of the National Doctors Association, has said that whether Dr Kotapu is registered with the PNG Medical Board or not does not change the study findings. Let me also say that a former study done by a marine biologist also implicated Tolokuma Mines in environmental damage. The biologists was an employee of Tolokuma Mines. And sure enough, when the report came out he was sacked! A college of mine, a medical doctor, who was also a former employee of Tolokuma Mines has also said the working conditions of the underground mine is way below acceptable standards. Underground mine workers are already showing signs of lung damage at a very early age.

So my question is: How can all these be happening under our noses and absolutely nothing is being done by our government and the relevant authorities? And please I do not want to hear the infamous “lack of funding” excuse! I am sick of it. I also wonder how did the company get the permit in the first place? Or did the inspectors from the Department of Mining actually visit the mine site prior to issuing the permit?

I am now trying to decide who should be held accountable for this mess. The government of PNG or Tolokuma Mines? Probably both, but who should shoulder the most?

I also think professional societies like the PNG Medical Society need to get more involved in issues such as this. Apart from the annual medical symposium, which seems to be the main activity for the society. The PNG Medical Society should not only conduct research but also take on social, economic and environmental issues such as this that affect the lives of ordinary Papua New Guineans.

The Health Department also need to take on environmental damage issues which directly or indirectly affect the lives of the people. With the number of mining companies in the country, I think this kind of issues should be of concern all health authorities. And that brings be the issue of the health secretary. Who is going to be our health secretary? Is it Dr Nicholas Mann or Dr Clement Malau? Please deal with this issue ASAP. How can the department move ahead if we are confuse who our secretary is? So please make a decision BEFORE THE ELECTIONS.

The council of chiefs from Veifa have now called a meeting to address the issue of environmental damage because they are affected by the toxic metals in their water systems. And they have called on relevant government authorities to attend their meeting and hear what they have to say. They have also called on the Papua New Guinean scientists who can assist to attend as well.

Finally, I want to finish this rather long post by saying: The government of PNG does not seem to serve the interests of the people who voted them into office. They seem to serve the interests of multinational companies. And NGOs are doing the work of the government!

Should we allow this to continue?


About rodney itaki

Medical doctor and public health specialist from Papua New Guinea.
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5 Responses to Who Should Be Blamed For High Levels Of Toxic Metals In The Blood Of Villagers?

  1. don says:

    You guys should protest or something. That would never fly in the states.

  2. rodney itaki says:

    Absolutely don. I am not sure whether its because of ignorance or lack of information that is stopping the public from protesting.

    I also do not think most Papua New Guineans have taken ownership of this issue and make it theirs.

    But I hope by writing and posting this on my blog, I will help the spread the word and make others aware of this problem.

  3. Uaho says:

    TGM and the Govt. have a moral obligation to the villagers whose primary resource is being polluted for the sake of revenue.

    It will take people power to get these operation to stop dumping its waste down the river. For this to be effective, villagers along these 2 rivers need public awareness and education to protest the Govt. and TGM to cease dumping until the river is returned to its pristine condition and they build a world stardard tailings dam, compensation to already affected villagers.

    I certainly do not want to see this river become a Fly river courtesy of OK Tedi mining!!

  4. rodney itaki says:

    Totally true Uaho.

    Public awarness and educating the villagers in the affected villagers is the key. One thing that I have noticed regarding reaction of villagers towards environmental damages by mining companies in PNG is that, in the highlands the people are easily able to mobolise themselves and protest against the company or the government. Usually this is done after normal dialogue fails or even while continueing but if it takes a long time for the government or company to respond.

    Many have commented against such practises in the highlands but if we care about the well fare of the people and want to make sure they recieve maximum benefit, then I think every effort should be make to ensure they are properly compensated for the damages. Or minimise as much as possible the environmental damages.

    OK Tedi is a classic case where lack of action led to massive extensive environmental damages.

    PNG government should also learn from the Bougainville experience and take heed of peoples’ demands. I certainly do not want another OK Tedi or Bougainville.

  5. Cynthia says:

    For me , I blame the government of the day for not being careful in the first place. They only know how to rush things without thoroughly examining the pros and cons of the aftermath. I can say that the welfare of the people was not even looked at carefully, or they seem to know that the people’ lives will be endangered but bcoz of the under the table deals and huge sums of money involved, they clam up or pretend to be ignorant. They are all a bunch of dummies and puppets decorating those offices… All of them must go. Sorry for my choice of words, am getting worked up just writing these down.

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