Do Bea Mountain, GoL Prefer to Wait for Deaths to Happen Before They Take Action?
Press statement by
SANNOH & PARTNERS, PC
Counsellors & Attorneys-At-Law
25 Benson Street (Corner of Benson & McDonald Streets)
Monrovia, Liberia Tel: 0886311151 / 0775494308 / 0775473023
August 11, 2022
- On August 8, 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Press Release in relation to its assessment of the Marvoe River, downstream of the New Liberty Gold Mine in Grand Cape Mount County. For the purpose of this Press Release, we quote the concluding paragraph of EPA’s Press Release.
“Based on the results of the final rounds of assessment, the Agency is pleased to report that all parameters tested are appreciately below the permissible limits set by EPA. The water resource is safe for all intents and purpose.”
- It could be recalled that on May 25, 2022 immediately following reports that several aquatic species were found dead in the Marvoe Creek, in Jikandoh, Darblo Clan, Grand Cape Mount County, EPA launched an investigation , the initial phase of which included sample collection, social interviews, community engagement, environmental scoping, geospatial data, and drone imagery downstream of Bea Mountain Operations and continued upstream to assess the quality of the water, probe the authenticity of the alleged pollution and to trase plausible sources of the pollution.
- The Ministry of Health (MOH), the National Public Health Institute (NPHIL), and the Ministry of Mines and Energy also visited the Jkandoh and conducted separate investigations and assessments, but have failed, neglected and refused to release any reports or recommendations in spite of demands on them to do so. In a Press release following its initial investigation, EPA stated that its investigation revealed a “higher than the permissible level of free cyanides with sources from the Bea Mountain Corporation Tilling storage facility resulting in dissolved oxygen level.”
- Based on these findings, EPA advised that until a final determination is made as to full remedial actions and their orderly implementation, all affected communities should desist from using and or consuming anything from the water. This effectively meant that the people of Jkandoh should desist from drinking the water from the Marvoe Creek, from fishing therein, from eating any aquatic products therfrom, including fish, shrimps or crabs, and from using the water for bathing and cooking. EPA also indicated that there is a need to widen the investigation.
- Consequently, in July 2022, nearly two months after the initial incident, EPA conducted a further investigation which also included sample collections, environmental scoping and community engagement. It is out of this second investigation that EPA concluded that all parameters tested are appreciately below the permissible limits set by EPA. The water resource is safe for all intents and purpose.”
- One does not have to be a rocket scientist to know that because of the passage of time and the heavy downpour of rain, whatever concentration of cyanide and other contaminants that led to the May 25 incident would have dissipated or decreased considerably two months after the incident. Notwithstanding, the first and second reports of EPA, read together, have essentially reached the same conclusion that (i) there is cyanide in the waters and land of Jikandoh with source from the Bea Mountain Mining Corporation Tilling storage facility and (ii) that cyanide level found in the waters and lands of Kinkandoh is, however, below the permissible limits set by EPA.
- The EPA report does not suggest and cannot be construed to mean that contamination of the Marvoe did not take place. Cyanide is not a naturally occurring element of waters and creeks. According to World Health Organization Guidelines, Cyanide is found in drinking water primarily as a consequence of industrial contamination.
- That said, the EPA report leaves a number of questions unanswered.
- It states that as of August 8, 2022, the waters and Wells in Jikandoh are “safe for drinking from all intents and purpose,’ but refrained from stating whether or not there is a “cumulative effect” from drinking of water contaminated with cyanide, albeit at low levels, over a protracted period of years.
- The report does not state the reparative or remedial actions that Bea Mountain Mining Corporation has taken to clean the contaminants which EPA confirmed from its initial investigation to have its source from the Bea Mountain Corporation Tilling storage facility.
- EPA stated that following its final determination, it will state the remedial actions to be undertaken and their underlying implementation. Unfortunately the Press Release makes no mention of any remedial action to be taken by Bea Mountain and the order of implementation.
- EPA does not state or confirm with certainty that the current low level of cyanide noted, aibert “below permissible levels set by EPA”, will not increase at any time in the future, as to result to death of aquatic species, or human beings.
- Cyanide is imported into Liberia by Bea Mountain and is used as a major chemical in its operations. That Bea Mountain is the only mining company operating within the vicinity of Jikandoh that uses cyanide is not in dispute. The fact that there was an incident of pollution in 2016, it is more than likely than not that another incident will happen again in the future as long as Bea Mountain continues to operate in the area. While the May 25, 2022 incident led to the death of aquatic species, no one can say with certainty that a similar incident tomorrow could not lead to the death of human beings in Jikandoh, including children, women and the elderly. Do Bea Mountain and the Government of Liberia prefer to wait for this eventuality before they take action? The Jikhandoh matter is therefore squarely on the lap of the Government of Liberia and the Bea Mountain Mining Company.
- We, therefore, call upon the Government of Liberia to protect the lives of its citizens in Jikandoh and to cause Bea Mountain to take the appropriate steps to prevent the gradual seepage of cyanide into the land & water ways of Jikandoh and surrounding communities from its Tillings Storage Facilities.
- Most importantly, we call upon the Government of Liberia and Bea Mountain Mountain Mining Company to have the people of Jikandoh relocated to a safe area, an undertaking which is the lesser of the two compelling imperatives, one to stop the operations of the Company until the seepage of cyanide into the land and waters of Jikandoh is remediated, or to have the people of Jikandoh relocated to a safe area where their fundamental right to safe drinking water is respected.
- Under international human rights laws, water is protected as a human right. The United Nations (UN), of which Liberia is a founding member, officially adopted water as a human right in 2022. Prior to this, Liberia had already ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1966, Section 15 of which states that “The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses.”
- The right to water essentially requires that water should never contain anything that could pose a health threat to life. The Government of Liberia, as a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is therefore obliged to ensure that the people of Jikandoh enjoy their basic human rights. To do so, the Government of Liberia must not only respect the right of the people of Jikandoh to safe drinking water in rhetoric, it must protect this right in practical terms by preventing third party interference, such as the case of Bea Mountain. We encourage the Government of Liberia to use Jikandoh incident as a wakeup call in light of the proliferation of industries and mining companies in Liberia, to consider the establishment of legislation that prohibits mining companies and industries from polluting drinking water.
- We will remain engaged with the Government and Bea Mountain Mining Company in this direction to ensure that the rights of the people of Jukandoh are respected, realized and fulfilled, failing which the people of Jikandoh will be constrained to seek appropriate redress locally and internationally, through advocacy and appropriate legal intervention. We encourage Bea Mountain and the Government of Liberia to obviate this recourse.
Cllr. Benedict F. Sannoh
Managing Director, Sannoh & Partners
for the People of Jikandoh, Darblo Clan,
Grand Cape Mount County/RL