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CAFOD discovers evidence of water contamination at Goldcorp mine

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  • Saleem Ali
    ... 40 Hay Road Chichester West Sussex PO19 8BE UK t. +44 (0)1243 783968 f. +44 (0)1243 783968 m. +44 (0)7973 768101 email. greg@gregvalerio.com skype.
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 2, 2009
      Please see the press release from CAFOD below

      Greg Valerio

      Begin forwarded message:

      From: "Sarah Barnett" <sbarnett@...>
      Date: 2 December 2009 13:36:36 GMT
      Subject: FW: Press release: CAFOD discovers evidence of water contamination at Goldcorp mine

      December 2, 2009
      For immediate release

      **Report attached**

      CAFOD and Development and Peace Canada discover evidence of severe water contamination at Goldcorp mine

      An investigation by aid agency CAFOD and Canada’s Development and Peace has uncovered documents showing water contamination at a Honduras mine owned by multi-million dollar mining company Goldcorp.

      The tests carried out by the Honduran authorities on water in the mine site which flows out into a local stream should have been acted on by the government and the company but instead the evidence of high acidity and metal concentrations were left undisclosed.

      CAFOD and Development and Peace have handed the evidence of pollution by Goldcorp over to the Environmental Prosecutor in Honduras.

      CAFOD’s Extractives Policy Analyst Sonya Maldar said: “Despite Goldcorp’s continual denial, this new information provides irrefutable evidence that the San Martin mine has caused pollution in Honduras. This is the latest in a long list of problems at the mine. Goldcorp must clean up its act so that the people of Siria Valley are not left with a toxic legacy when the company leaves Honduras at the end of the year."

      Mining specialists from Newcastle University carried out an investigation into the design and implementation of Goldcorp’s mine closure plan. The report produced by the Newcastle University team includes data – previously undisclosed by the Honduran regulatory authorities - showing a severe incident of pollution in September 2008.

      The report released today reveals acidity of the water at two sites reached levels of a pH between 2.5 and 3, which is typically very damaging to stream biology. (Distilled water has a pH of 7, vinegar 3 and lemon juice 2). As well as high levels of cadmium, copper and iron.

      This is consistent with a complaint presented by a local community group, the Siria Valley Environmental Committee, to Honduras’ Environmental Prosecutor about discolouration of the water flowing from streams originating from within the mine’s perimeter on 24 September 2008. Community members reported that the water was a “reddish colour (…) and emanated a strong smell of sulphur”. This indicates that contaminated water from the mine’s perimeter had entered streams used by people in the Siria Valley for domestic and agricultural purposes.

      The high levels of iron in the tested water sites as well as the low pH are symptoms of Acidic Mine Drainage (AMD), which is caused by the weathering of pyrite (a mineral composed of iron and sulphur). Deposits of pyrite are usually present as sulphide deposits in layers of rock beneath the earth’s surface. When areas are mined these deposits are exposed to the air and they break down, releasing acidity into natural waters. Toxic metals associated with other minerals, such as copper and cadmium, dissolve readily in acidic waters, and if the resultant solution is released into waterways the effects on communities and wildlife can be devastating. However, AMD is managed effectively on many mine sites worldwide, including others operate by Goldcorp in other countries. There is no reason their Honduran operation should be managed to a lesser standard.

      The Newcastle University report highlights that Goldcorp’s mine closure plan lacks sufficient detail to allow an independent evaluation on the basis of the report alone. Some of the things Goldcorp have done on the site are actually better than their report would suggest, but other things are worse.  For instance, the report did  not properly take into consideration the high intensity of many rainstorms in Honduras,  which can lead to flood and erosional risk on mine waste heaps and in ponds in which contaminated water is held. This means there can be a risk of contaminated water flowing into rivers and streams around the mine site, some of which feed drinking water sources for local communities. Although the company are now addressing earlier erosional problems, in the long term only sustained monitoring and maintenance can prevent such problems developing long after mine closure. 

      According to the communities living near the mine, these measures continue to be insufficient. Drainage channels constructed by Goldcorp to collect water from the mine’s heap leach pads have overflowed on two occasions since their construction in May 2009, discharging water out towards the community road.

      On inspection of the Siria Valley mine site in June this year, Dr Adam Jarvis and Dr Jaime Amezaga of Newcastle University saw unequivocal evidence that elevated concentrations of iron had flowed down the ravine from the Tajo Palo Alto open pit in the past. They saw that temporary measures were being taken by the mine staff to try to prevent future occurrences and that further measures were being proposed; despite this, Goldcorp’s management still refused to admit that the site had ever caused water contamination. Without open disclosure of how serious the water contamination was, it is difficult for independent specialists to be sure that the remedial measures now proposed by the mine will be sufficient to protect the communities from long term environmental hazards.

      International expert of mine water management, Professor Paul Younger, who carried out an initial review of Goldcorp’s Mine Closure Plan and documented evidence of Acidic Mine Drainage during an earlier visit to the Siria Valley for CAFOD, said: “In spite of all the evidence of acidic mine drainage coming from the mine, the company denied live on national TV that they have caused pollution. This is not only exasperating; it does the company itself no favours.  If Goldcorp were to be up-front about the problems they’ve encountered at the San Martin mine, it would be possible for independent observers to gain confidence that the steps they are taking to address them will really work. When all’s said and done, there is no such thing as a “walk away” solution for mine sites, so the company must commit to long term monitoring of the site in order to prevent a reoccurrence of acidic mine drainage and erosion problems in the future. ”

      CAFOD, Development and Peace, Professor Paul Younger, Pedro Landa of Caritas Tegucigalpa and a member of the Siria Valley community will meet with Goldcorp at their offices in Toronto on 10 December 2009. We hope that during this meeting the company will address our concerns about its operations in the Siria Valley.

      Notes to editors

      For interviews with Professor Paul Younger and Sonya Maldar, and further information contact Pascale Palmer ppalmer@... 07785 950 585

      The report is attached or can be downloaded at cafod.org.uk


      The San Martin mine in Siria Valley is the largest opencast gold mine in Honduras, run by Entre Mares, a Honduran subsidiary wholly owned by the Canadian-US company Goldcorp. The company has consistently disputed test results confirming the presence of arsenic and cyanide in water sources flowing close to or from within the mine boundaries.

      The mine, which began full operations in 2000 and will officially close at the end of this year, has caused controversy from the start, with local people claiming they were not fully consulted about the project. Earlier this year 24 cattle were found dead on grazing land near the mine; while large numbers of the local population, including children, have been suffering skin conditions and other health problems. Local people believe this is a result of pollution caused by the mine. Goldcorp denies this has any connection with their operation. 

      Legislation regarding mining in Honduras is weak, and the government has done little to ensure the rights of affected communities are protected.

      During the mine’s period of operation, the company used controversial cyanide heap-leaching methods to extract gold from low grade deposits. This means piles of crushed gold ore are soaked in a solution of cyanide which filters down leaching out the gold deposits and releasing other toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead. Without careful management, these pollutants can seep into streams and contaminate groundwater. This practice is banned in some US states.

      The issues

      Cyanide and arsenic contamination and Acidic Mine Drainage

      Over the past five years, numerous tests carried out by CAFOD and Development and Peace partner Caritas Tegucigalpa and the Honduran government show evidence of dangerous levels of arsenic, cyanide and other heavy metals in water sources flowing close to or from within the mine boundaries. In 2007, the Honduran Secretariat of Natural Resources and Environment (SERNA) fined Goldcorp one million lempiras, equivalent in value to about £26,000 (at the time) for pollution and damage to the environment. The company has consistently disputed these tests and has appealed against the fine.

      In 2007, the Latin America Water Tribunal ruled on a complaint filed by members of the Siria Valley communities, finding Goldcorp accountable for damage to the environment and unreasonable use of water in the Siria Valley. The tribunal recommends that a thorough investigation into the health of local communities is carried out, that all mining activity is suspended and the communities are compensated for the damage caused.

      During a visit to Honduras in November 2008, Paul Younger, Professor of Hydro-Geochemical Engineering at Newcastle University and a world expert on mine water management, noted signs of acidic mine drainage close to the mine site. Acid mine drainage – a process whereby sulphides in the rock are exposed to oxygen and water and react to produce sulphuric acid – can have devastating impacts on the environment, contaminating groundwater with toxic heavy metals and killing plants and animals for years after the mine has closed.  Professor Younger’s observations included unequivocal signs of discoloration of streams indicating that metal-rich, and likely acidic, waters have discharged from the mine perimeter.

      During a subsequent visit by Dr Adam Jarvis and Dr Jaime Amezaga, also of Newcastle University, clear evidence was seen that highly acidic and metal-rich water had discharged from one part of the mine (the Tajo Palo Alto) to a local stream, on at least one occasion. This evidence was in the form of an analytical report of water samples collected by DEFOMIN (the Honduran Department for the Administration of Mineral Resources), the government body responsible for promoting mining in Honduras, granting concessions and monitoring environmental impact.

      Dr Amezaga and Dr Jarvis identified a clear need to ensure that measures are taken within the mine site to ensure that such incidences do not occur in the future.  Although Drs Jarvis and Amezaga in fact identified a number of positive aspects to the ongoing rehabilitation of the mine site, the mine closure plan itself has very inadequate details of the measures the mine proposes to take to ensure no pollution occurs in the future. Specifically, they recommended that the mine closure plan lacked key information on:

      •       Exact details of the plans for rehabilitation
      •       Evidence to support the proposals made, and
      •       Details of the post-closure monitoring of the site to ensure rehabilitation is effective

      Without a comprehensive mine closure plan it is not possible to have confidence that pollution incidences such as that noted above will not occur after the closure of the mine.

      Alleged health impacts
      Communities in the Siria Valley have complained of health problems, including respiratory, skin and gastro-intestinal diseases, which they believe are a result of drinking water polluted by the mine. A study carried out by the Honduran Department for the Environment in 2008, found high levels of heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead and mercury in blood samples taken from villagers living close to the mine. The study has yet to be published by the government. Goldcorp denies that the health problems are a result of their operations.

      The people of the Siria Valley have repeatedly called on the government to provide medical care for those whose health is allegedly affected by the mine. In March this year the people of the Siria Valley protested at the Health Ministry demanding action by the government.

      Water shortages
      As well as pollution, communities living close to the mine have complained that heavy water use by the mine, in an area already prone to drought, has caused wells to dry up. During operations, the mine was authorised to use up to 220 gallons of water a minute and during the construction of the mine, Goldcorp used more than 60,000 gallons of water per day, while villagers faced shortages and had to buy water.

      Displacement of communities
      The small village of Palo Ralos was demolished in the year 2000 to make way for the San Martin mine. Fourteen families were relocated to a new settlement with the same name 900 metres from the mine. Nine years later, at the start of 2009, seven families had still not received legal titles to their new land and houses from Goldcorp. Nor had they received the property deeds for the community areas. Those families who did eventually receive land titles from the company found that they contained errors, for example the wrong name or identity card number, which could undermine the legal validity of their properties. They fear eviction from their land when the mine closes its operations and the company leaves Honduras.

      Lack of consultation and information sharing
      Community representatives have complained that they were not consulted adequately about the plans for the mine and, nor at any point did they give their consent for Goldcorp for the mine site to be developed. The people of the Siria Valley have also found it extremely difficult to obtain accurate information about Goldcorp’s operations at San Martin, including the controversial mine closure plan. A copy of the plan was requested from the government as far back as August 2007, but not obtained by Caritas and the community until October 2008.

      Loss of farming land and deforestation
      A large area of agricultural land in the Siria Valley has been damaged by the San Martin mine. Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for people in the region. A socio-economic study in 2003 estimated the impacts on farming of the Goldcorp mine by comparing the situation with baseline data from 1993. The survey showed that the quantity of land under cultivation in 2003 was well below the levels of 1993.   Between 1,000-2,000 trees were cut down by the company to make way for filtration ponds and other aspects of mining infrastructure. Deforestation has also exacerbated the problems of water shortages and soil erosion in what was already a dry area. While some reforestation work has been carried out by Goldcorp, many of the trees planted are from different species to those found naturally in the area.

      •       CAFOD is the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, working with communities in over 50 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, supporting people to find their own solutions to poverty. The agency works with all people regardless of race, gender, religion or nationality.

      •       CAFOD, Development and Peace and their partner organisation in Honduras, Caritas Tegucigalpa, have been supporting the Siria Valley communities affected by the San Martin mine through advocacy targeted at the company and Honduran government.

      •       CAFOD and Development and Peace Canada have been raising concerns with Goldcorp about their conduct in Honduras since 2006.

      Pascale Palmer
      Advocacy Media Officer

      +44 20 7095 5459
      +44 7785 950 585

      Romero Close
      Stockwell Road
      London SW9 9TY

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