West Papua – Suspected Mercury Contamination of Degeuwo River by Gold Miners

West Papua – Suspected Mercury Contamination of Degeuwo River by Gold Miners

West Papua – Suspected Mercury Contamination of Degeuwo River by Gold Miners Indonesia, News, Pacific, West Papua
January 9, 2012

Source: Tabloid Jubi
Translated by AKR staff

Elemental mercury which makes it easy to separate gold from other metal compounds was allegedly used by unscrupulous owners of the gold mine at the site Tayaga II, Nomouwodide Village, District Bogobaida, Paniai district. This causes water contaminated with heavy metals to flow into the Degeuwo River from the illegal gold mining area.

Possible contamination by chemical substances is further backed up by complaints from local residents of itching, peeling skin – even after only one exposure to the river water. The real impact is much more severe and can result in deaths and declining birth rates. “The color of Degeuwo River water has changed to black. Gross and oily water. Leg or other body parts if exposed to water, usually get an itchy rash, even flaky, “said one resident Degeuwo, Tinus Dekepa, to tabloidjubi.com Friday June 1st.

This fact confirms earlier allegations that there was gold at the site of the Tayaga mining company who are known to use use mercury to dredge gold in the Degeuwo River.

Although there have been no laboratory tests for contamination or environmental impact assessments, mercury use is common in gold panning activities, and something is polluting the Degeuwo River. This is a significant threat to public health in the area, since local residents usually use the Degeuwo River for drinking water.

Tinus Dekepa said that mercury use was introduced by one of the foreign mining companies which began operating in the Degeuwo River several years ago. “At first we thought there would be no problem, but now people are experiencing itching and skin peeling. Now we have a new sense of its impact.”

It’s very unfortunate that this contamination has been taking place unchecked for so long. All this time people have been consuming the Degeuwo River water in sometimes large, potentially very toxic quantities. “They put mercury to bind to gold mining waste products right into the water we were collecting for household use,” he said.

Theoretically, it becomes very dangerous to humans if the levels of Mercury used in panning activities surpass 0.008 milligrams per liter. In addition to damaging crops and forests around the river, Mercury can also be fatal to the human body. It can cause black spots, allergies and skin irritation, or with greater exposure, weakening of the nervous system, brain, kidney, and the five senses.

Head of Environmental Impact Management Agency (Bapedalda) Paniai District, Drs. Gobay Barnabas, said short-term use of chemical substances such as Mercury in high doses can cause vomiting, diarrhea, kidney damage, and can even trigger cancer. “So, do not use it in the gold panning activities in Degeuwo,” he said.

“The last time my team went down to Degeuwo Muspida Paniai District plus, I forbade anyone from using Mercury and other chemicals. I also banned one of the companies operating on the Degeuwo River, because it’s dangerous,” said Barnabas.

Previously, residents had complained of hives, hot sensations in the skin, and headaches. These initial symptoms suggested mercury contamination of the water in the Degeuwo River.

“We ask the government to tackle this now, because if not, both long and short-term health of our citizens is threatened,” said Tinus.

Before the gold mining began around 2000, the Degeuwo water was actually clear. Only during the rainy season the color would become somewhat blurred due to flooding. Now the color of the water has changed to black due to gold mining activities. The use of chemicals such as Mercury is the suspected cause.

“Levels of water contamination need to be investigated. If it is proved to be already contaminated, then whoever is using Merkury should be banned from operating again in Degeuwo,” said Barnabas Gobay.

Chairman of the Tribal Council District Paniai Bogobaida, Melianus Yumai explained that the indigenous people have always relied on the Degeuwo water for drinking, cooking food and washing clothes. Some people also bathe in the river. The gold mining is putting an end to that.

“Set one foot in that water, and your skin will definitely itch, so people are scared to go in the water anymore. Most likely the water is contaminated with chemical substances commonly used by companies in the location Tayaga Marzuki Haji II and any other miners,” said Melianus.

He hopes there will be concrete scientific research on the alleged use of Mercury. With that, we can at least be sure about the levels of water pollution in the Degeuwo River. (Jubi / MY)

AK Rockefeller

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AK Rockefeller

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