Environmental Advisory Committee Chair Quits Over River Pollution at Placer Dome's Porgera Mine in Papua New Guinea

MiningWatch Canada – Mineral Policy Center – Mineral Policy Institute

NGOs Renew Call on Placer Dome to Stop Dumping Mine Waste Into Rivers

(Ottawa/Washington/Bondi Junction) Yati Bun, Chair of Placer Dome's Porgera Environmental Advisory Komiti (PEAK) has resigned over the company's misuse of him in its propaganda materials and lack of action in the cleanup of river pollution from the its Porgera Mine.

In his resignation letter Bun sharply criticized Placer Dome for failing to implement recommendations aimed at mitigating the impacts of mine waste disposal into the Strickland River at its Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea. At Porgera, Placer Dome dumps mine waste directly into the Strickland River, a practice that is illegal in most developed countries. The letter was dated April 27th, but not released until last week.

Placer Dome has disposed of mine tailings and overburden into the Strickland River system in Papua New Guinea since 1992. After numerous complaints by local villagers and Papua New Guinea environmental groups, and following a 1995 scientific study published by Australia's Mineral Policy Institute indicating serious environmental problems, the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) conducted a thorough study of the impacts of riverine disposal at the mine.

Placer Dome then created a multi-stakeholder committee called PEAK (Porgera Environmental Advisory Komiti) to oversee the implementation of the CSIRO recommendations. In his resignation letter PEAKs most recent Chairman, Yati Bun, accused the company of using him in propaganda materials while doing nothing to mitigate the impacts of their disposal on the Strickland River. "Placer has now had four years to carry out these studies and implement their recommendations, yet nothing has changed from the situation in 1996 when the CSIRO report was started," said Bun.

Bun's resignation was sparked by Placers unauthorized use of his name in publicity materials. "My conscience cannot tolerate being involved any longer with the PEAK process of expediting the continuation of riverine discharge, as when the history of Porgera is written I do not wish to be the one that oversaw Porgera's impacts and did nothing," he stated.

Bun is the highly respected Executive Director of the Foundation for People and Community Development in Papua New Guinea.

The 1996 CSIRO report found that particulate metals are steadily increasing and may now exceed concentrations that have been shown elsewhere to have long term ecosystem effects. The report also found that fish populations in the upper river system have been in decline since 1993. CSIRO made numerous recommendations including that tailings solids and waste rock be stored on-site.

International NGOs including MiningWatch Canada, the Mineral Policy Center, and the Mineral Policy Institute have called on Placer Dome and other mining companies to commit to ending the practice of riverine waste disposal, a practice that cannot be justified as environmentally acceptable. Recent acknowledgement by Australian mining company BHP that riverine disposal at its Ok Tedi mine — located near the Porgera mine — has resulted in massive environmental damage led to a spate of denunciations of riverine disposal of mine waste by major international mining companies.

Placer Dome's use of a major river system in Papua New Guinea to dispose of mine waste containing metals and extraction reagents has been controversial since it began.

"Riverine disposal was already an anachronism in 1992," said Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada, "Placer Dome knows that they would never have been allowed to do this in Canada, yet Placer Dome refuses to renounce the practice." Coumans added, "Does Placer Dome want to wait until the crisis at the Porgera mine reaches the proportions of Ok Tedi, or will the company take heed of the impending crisis signalled by the resignation of Yati Bun and implement the CSIRO recommendations without further delay?"

Stephen D'Esposito, President of Mineral Policy Center in Washington D.C., called on Placer Dome to address the problems at Porgera and commit to ending the practice of riverine waste disposal. "Placer Dome claims to follow the same high environmental standards wherever it mines; unfortunately its actions don't yet match its words. Placer Dome must implement cleanup measures at the Porgera Mine and commit to end this practice in the future," said Mr. D'Esposito.

"With every passing day the area affected by mine waste dumped by Porgera into the Strickland River grows wider," said Geoff Evans, Director of the Mineral Policy Institute in Sydney, Australia. "River water carrying mine waste now continuously feeds into Lake Murray, the largest freshwater lake in Papua New Guinea. Communities down the length of the Strickland and at Lake Murray are speaking out in anger. They have a right to pure water and fair treatment by Placer Dome," Evans concluded.

A background fact sheet and copies of Yati Bun's resignation letter are also available. Please contact MWC, MPC or MPI.

For more information contact:

  • Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada: +1 613-569-3439 or +1 613-256-8331
  • Stephen D'Esposito, MPC: +1 202-887-1872 x203 or +1 202-422-8991
  • Simon Divecha, Mineral Policy Institute: O2 9387 5549 or 0428-77-5540