EARTHWORKS • FIAN-Germany • FIAN-Ghana • MiningWatch Canada • Oxfam America • WACAM
A group of Ghanaian and international organizations is calling for greater oversight of Golden Star Resources, a multinational mining company that is responsible for causing two cyanide spills in less than two years at its Bogoso/Prestea gold mine in Ghana. The US-Canadian mining company is a signatory to the International Cyanide Management Code, a voluntary initiative for the gold mining industry intended to improve the management of cyanide at gold mines and reduce the incidents of accidents such as cyanide spills. The civil society organizations are urging the International Cyanide Management Institute (ICMI) to immediately audit the Bogoso/Prestea mine and take steps to ensure that local communities are protected from cyanide exposure. As the administrator of the Cyanide Code, ICMI is responsible for ensuring that the operations of signatories are in compliance with the code.
On 16 June 2006, just three months after Golden Star signed the Cyanide Code, it was reported that cyanide-laced tailings (mine waste) from the Bogoso/Prestea tailings dam leaked into the Ajoo stream, a tributary of the Aprepre river. The Bogoso/Prestea mine is operated by Golden Star's Ghanaian subsidiary Bogoso Gold Limited (BGL). The stream and the river are a source of drinking water and fish for the Dumase community. An earlier cyanide spill was reported on October 23, 2004 and also contaminated the Aprepre river. In both instances, some villagers had already consumed water or fish from the river before being informed by the company of the cyanide spill. No independent health investigation has taken place despite community members reporting symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, stomach aches, and itching.
“It is due to Golden Star’s irresponsible and negligent behaviour that the Dumase community is suffering yet again. The spill occurred at around 11:00pm, and it wasn't until the next morning that the community was informed. The company must be held accountable and required to improve its practices,” said Monica Yeboah of FIAN-Ghana, a human rights organization.
The Chief of Dumase, Nana Korkye II, criticized the company for polluting the community's drinking water sources. Although BGL supplies tankers of water to the community, residents say the quantity is not adequate so they still have to use the rivers and streams. Residents of Dumase and other communities affected by the mine, such as Prestea and Himan, have for years raised concerns about the company’s behaviour.
In 2005, the Ghanaian Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) briefly shut down operations in the mine's northern pit, but community members say the agency should take stronger action to ensure that those affected by the cyanide spills are adequately compensated and protected. Ghanaian and international organizations have repeatedly called on the EPA to uphold the rights of affected communities and take steps to safeguard their environment, health, and well-being.
“To date as a chief of the town, I continue to receive complaints of sickness from some of the people who were affected by the 2004 spillage,” said Nana Korkye II. “I represent the frustration of my people especially when EPA, Minerals Commission, and other governmental agencies sit down unconcerned while BGL inflicts these pains on us. Is it a crime to sit on gold? Do we have to suffer such dehumanising acts because of the profits of BGL?”
Devastating cyanide spills at gold mines, such as the tailings dam failure in 2000 at the Baia Mare gold mine in Romania, prompted the development of the Cyanide Code. The code has been upheld by mining companies as an important mechanism to improve operations, especially in countries lacking adequate regulatory programs.
“The Cyanide Code is meaningless if a company with a bad track record of cyanide management, such as Golden Star Resources, is not immediately and thoroughly audited. The affected communities have a right to be informed about the causes and effects of the cyanide spill, and the steps that will be taken to prevent another accident,” said Radhika Sarin, international campaign coordinator at Earthworks.
Wexford Goldfields Limited (WGL) is another subsidiary of Golden Star Resources operating the Wassa gold mine at Akyempim in Ghana. A January 2005 cyanide spill by WGL in the Kubekro river affected several communities who depend on the river for water and fish. Like Dumase, these communities have not been compensated.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, WACAM (Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining) +233-244-679556
Monica Yeboah, FIAN-Ghana, +233-20-8703484
Ute Hausmann, FIAN-Germany, +49-221-7020072
In the United States:
Radhika Sarin, EARTHWORKS, +1-212-729-4923
Keith Slack, Oxfam America, +1-202-496-1308
Jamie Kneen, MiningWatch Canada, +1-613-761-2273 (mobile)