Says no one came in contact with chemical spillage
The Inter-Ministerial Crisis Management Team (CMT) constituted by the government to investigate the September 27, 2017, rupture of a section of the geo-membrane layer, which led to the spillage of chemical (cyanide) into nearby waters at the MNG-Gold Mine in Kokoyah, Bong County, has concluded its work, indicating that the situation is now under control.
The rupture resulted into uncontrollable discharge of slurry containing cyanide from the dam into the Sien Creek. The discharge led to the contamination of ground and surface waters including hand pumps and the creek.
At a press conference in Monrovia on Thursday, November 9, the chair of the CMT, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said that following work the experts carried out at the site, the situation is now under control.
EPA deputy executive director, Urias Goll, said that the surface and the ground water, which previously contained traces of cyanide are now free of any concentration of cyanide, and therefore, residents in the community are now allowed to resume their normal activities including farming.
He said the EPA has made effort to restore the livelihood of Sayewheh Town residents as well as repair the damaged dam, which failure resulted into spillage of cyanide-containing effluent in the environment.
Mr. Goll said the government has now cleared (ordered) the company to resume its operations, noting, “we expect the company to resume its operations very soon after all of our work. We want to be thankful to the management for the level of cooperation during the crisis.”
The CMT was setup, not just to probe the matter and work with MNG Gold’s management to bring the situation under control, but to ensure that relevant actions are taken to avert any re-occurrence.
The spillage was thought to have also affected 34 individuals who were immediately taken to various health facilities, but Goll said that these individuals thought to have come in contact with the contaminated water during the chemical spillage have no direct correlation of cyanide to the illness the people reported.
“We are pleased to report to you that the 34 persons that allegedly came in contact with the contaminated water were treated and medical reports from Phebe Hospital, MNG Clinic and JFK Medical Hospital confirmed that there is no direct correlation of cyanide to the illnesses the people earlier reported,” Mr. Goll said.
This, according to Mr. Goll, was after multiple tests were done on these individuals at several medical facilities. He said the various tests indicated that some of the people came down with malaria, skin rashes and urinary track-infection.
“Medical tests have indicated that those thought to have been affected by the chemical spillage were rather sick from malaria, rashes and other sicknesses, and not as we all had thought,” he said.
According to the New York State Department of Health, the human body handles small amounts of cyanide differently than large amounts. In small doses, cyanide in the body can be changed into thiocyanate, which is less harmful and is excreted in urine. In large doses, the body’s ability to change cyanide into thiocyanate is overwhelmed. Large doses of cyanide prevent cells from using oxygen and eventually these cells die. The heart, respiratory system and central nervous system are most susceptible to cyanide poisoning.
Further research shows that the effects of cyanide on the human body include general weakness, malaise, and collapse; Neurologic symptoms such as headache, vertigo, dizziness, giddiness, inebriation, confusion, generalized seizures, coma, as well as Abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.
The cyanide spill in the mining area also disrupted farming activities in some parts of Sayewheh Town and along the affected creek. It posed potential health hazard to the community and its inhabitants, thus resulting to the temporarily closure of all hand pumps, banned farming activities, artisanal mining and the closure of schools, which led to the referral of some community members for medical examination.
But Goll said that the government was satisfied with the level of work done in the area by collaborating with the team, the company management and the community members.
He said MNG Gold has provided additional food items to the community members during a transitional period, while work is yet to resume. “This is to demonstrate the company’s commitment of its social responsibility and concern for the well-being of the community members.”
“The government, through the CMT appreciates the effort of those who participated in the crisis management process. We thank the press which constantly informed the public about the situation. It is our desire and commitment to ensure that these kinds of disasters are averted or significantly minimized,” he said.