Mining Companies Must Be Responsible.

By Dr Sioni Sialis, PNG Doctors Internet Group.

Hello olgeta,

As some of you may have heard, I had the opportunity of working at the Tolukuma Gold Mine a few years ago, and I worked for a year.

Tolukuma is run by a South African company called DRD; I have forgotten now but I think it is called Durban Durepoort Deep Group Ltd. It has a 20% stake in the Porgera mine and also a mine in Fiji.

Tolukuma is an underground mine like Porgera but not of the same standard. Standard of safe practice is very poor. I still wonder how they still work in our country, but I do know that they have alot of things tired up, and for alot of us who were there, it was a form of employment.

Actually, I couldn’t wait to leave once I had the opportunity. For an underground mine of that sort and the mining that is involved, it is risky; gold is held in quartz rock and the blasting can resulst in the crystals of the quartz being inhaled. Which can lead to Silicosis which is a permanent damage to your lungs. Masks that are worn underground are all black from soot when you do come back out of the underground mine. The ventilation is terrible.

After sometime the management sent the underground workers to Pacific International Hospital for an assessment. A large majority of them had some form of mild/moderate restrictive changes and reduced hearing loss from the audiometry. For alot of the workers, it is form of employment and livelihood for themselves and their families. Where else would you find a job? If you did find one then leave. If not then hang on.

Despite numerous attempts to obtain spirometers, have CXR’s and audiometry for baseline tests – it fell on deaf ears.

That was my feeling about the company and how it handled it’s responsibilities and hence it is my opinion.

When I was there I heard of a visit by the senior chemist and the community affairs down the river and out in Kairuku area, mentioning that the samples taken were within normal limits.

I also know of a report by Oxfam outlining the atrocities depicted from dying trees along the river bed and health problems of the local people.

The operations in Tolukuma are in the mountains of Goilala and hence there is no road connection. Everything is flown in by chopper. Hence, the cost to get one ounce of gold is quite high. Hence, money and spending is very tight to ensure a profit. Their operations then in South Africa were going to the dogs and Tolukuma was preventing that ship from sinking because of the high grade of gold found. Also, there is not set reserves of gold for the mine. Their operation is basically mine and explore at the same time.

I read somewhere that the General Manager can be held liable under the Common law.

With all that, it is most likely that Dr. Kotapu is right. I just wonder how high up the corruption goes in terms of the Department concerned with mining and Environment. I am sure they do get reports on a regular basis. So someone is covering up.

Sorry guys, that was my unpleasant experience, and I am glad that I have got out of there. There must be a way that they pay, and I hope they do. I didn’t think this could happen in PNG.


About rodney itaki

Medical doctor and public health specialist from Papua New Guinea.
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10 Responses to Mining Companies Must Be Responsible.

  1. Badira says:

    Thank you Dr. Sialisi for the human insight into the normal daily conditions of the mine. As you being a medical profession, your observations are very valuable, I am more informed through your experience and thoughts. This definitely gives me a feeling and realization to the enormity and extent of the Tolukuma issue.

    I agree with you, as it is also my opinion, fabric of corruption has woven itself through the Mining Department, Environment and Conservation, Health department and etc.

  2. rodney itaki says:

    I also agree with Dr Sialis.

    We should not let multinationals come into Papua New Guinea and make a profit at the expense of the health of our people.

  3. This is one of the major issues facing us and the need to go “RESPONSIBLE MINING” need not be emphasised. Only the degree of “RESPONSIBLE MINING” is varying in different perceptions.
    Thanks for an excellent posting which definitely should make an impact. I have been trying to highlight the current emerging needs for responsible mining and taking along the local vulnarable community to confidence as well as transparency in all aspects, in my website http;//
    Narayana Moorthy

  4. rodney itaki says:

    Narayana, I think you said it. The issue here is the degree of responsiblity.

    In countries like Papua New Guinea, where the Department of Environment and Conservation is understaffed and most times, underfunded, the work of making sure the companies do what they are supposed to do is not done.

    Furthermore, allegations of corruption and mismanagement of funds in this very department do not help.

  5. Badira says:

    Talking about responsible and degree of responsibile mining, its getting me thinking, if the environment is globally degrading, WHO and other Standards governing, and regulation, heavy metal and other contaminants in ecosystem, will surely undergo revision. The dilemma is do we charge those in the past recent history that were not governed by this regulation some decades ago, or do we naturally say, this is a new law and does not cover you. Its surely a headache thinking about it but the point is I think thresholds are not concrete enough, more people should come out and challenge workplace ethics, profit driven coverups, personal job security etc…i’m sure that if Dr. Sialis was still with emperor, he may have taken the observation as “just observations” for job security reasons, I would be too if my family was going suffer tremendously if I blew the whistle on Emperor.

  6. rodney itaki says:

    Thats true. Sometimes, if faced with a situation where you have to choose between your moral conscience and your family, I think most will choose their families. Especially if the job is a well paid one.

  7. I agree. survival comes first. But a long look at the “SURVIVAL ITSELF” is at stake and the initiatives are expected from emperors to be faithfully followed. What has happened is being attempted wherever possible like superfund programs but the reversal of damaged rivers and environment is for our grandchildren and down the order. Pinning down responsibility for what has happened is also being fought about like Rapu Rapu. What is required is a sincere and serious attempt to look at the future and be responsible, first in futre operations and concurrently what could be done about the changes that are already with us. It is not a halt for an essential process is called for but a new direction and balance
    Narayana Moorthy

  8. Badira says:

    I agree Narayana, underlying is the consideration for furture generation. From the scientific consideration, the huge amount of scientific data collected during gephysical exploration, tailing monitoring and mine restoration must be properly analysed. I think this is lacking, a model to predict a mines environmental and health impact base on initial trends, we need senerios assessment of each mine. It maybe wishful thinking but practical i believe. If we can predict a mines economic impact before its starts, i think it is natural for us to try predict its future environmental impact. It maybe the new direction that we are seeking as concerned custodians of the environment.

  9. thanks Badira for crystallizing the need. Everything has a begninning and the mind-boggling corrective work should not dampen the initiatives now required to look ahead. Well said.

  10. rodney itaki says:

    I have always have the impression that before any mining operation begin, the risk assesment of environmental damage and how much will be affected are some of the first things done. And I am sure environmental laws are in place to make sure the mining companies have plans to minimise the damages.

    One of question bugging me is: ‘how much of the damage are we willing to accept in return for the economic benefits?’ Because every mining or logging project that start, for sure the environment will not be spared.

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