MNG Gold, a Turkish mining company operating in Kokoyah, Bong County, has acknowledged that cyanide waste from its facility affected some creeks that serve as sources of water for locals in Sayewheh Town.
It can be recalled that reports emerged last year implicating MNG Gold of contaminating water sources from its Tailing Storage Facility (TSF), thus causing some residents to fall ill and be hospitalized.
Meryem Tekol Pelenk, Global Health, Safety and Environmental Director of MNG, acknowledged the accident and extended an apology to the locals.
“The safety and well-being of our neighbors, employees and contractors are always our first priority and this is irreplaceable with any material benefit. We again apologize to our neighbors for any concern or inconvenience this may have caused them,” she said.
Pelenk said that, “On September 28, last year, during the routine morning inspection, our teams observed a discharge from an under drain pipe. It was firstly thought that the discharge was coming from the drainage system after a very heavy overnight rain.”
She said the management noticed in a few hours that the appearance of the water changed, and it was realized that the discharge was coming from the TSF.
Without keeping it confidential, Ms. Pelenk said MNG immediately notified the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in line with its Crisis Management Protocol which, accordingly, helped a lot in managing the “unintended” accident with perfect coordination among team members, governmental bodies, community members, and external experts, to ensure a possible minimum impact in a very limited time.
The acknowledgment and apology from MNG come following the publication of articles in a number of local dailies, including the Daily Observer and Frontpage Africa, highlighting the company’s refusal to meet the health needs of the affected people.
In Frontpage Africa, the headline is titled, “Killing Them Slowly,” with the locals accusing the company of contaminating their water with cyanide, thus resulting into illness for some. The Daily Observer, on the other hand, has in its July 18 edition, “Residents Complain MNG-Gold of Chemical Spillage.”
In the report, residents complained that since the spillage, they continue to experience stomach pain and rashes on their bodies, and their water smells of an explosive device.
Ms. Pelenk informed journalists that the company, being conscious of the safety of the people, therefore decided to halt all operations until issues raised by the locals were addressed and the TSF unit that had the leak was fixed.
After solving the problem of leakage at the TSF and the Sein Creek was cleared, they, with instruction of the Crisis Management Team, informed people of Sayewheh Town and the elders were taken to the scene to view the facilities.
In order to prevent any recurrence of disease contact, Ms. Pelenk said they announced on a local community radio that people should stop activities along or in the Sein Creek.
During this period, she said MNG provided safe drinking water and food for residents of Sayewheh Town, adding that at least 36 community members who came in contact with the contaminated water were transferred immediately to three different hospitals for medical care at the expense of the company.
Although some residents of Sayewheh Town still complain of itches and other problems they felt resulted from the spillage, Ms. Pelenk said, “We were happy to hear that nobody had come down with any serious ailment, and we commend our teams of experts, government officials and community members for the joint effort and great cooperation.”
To affirm that people complaining are not affected by cyanide, some of the victims during the spillage were taken to separate hospitals, including John F. Kennedy Medical Center, the Jackson Fiah Doe Hospital and the Phebe Hospital, and medical results showed that their health problems are unrelated to cyanide.
Pelenk said results show that some of the people, whose names are withheld for reason of confidentiality, have different diseases far from the effect of cyanide.
Some diseases diagnosed include Hepatitis B and sexually transmitted infections.
The locals are also accusing the company of concealing medical reports from them; something the government and Community Relations Manager of MNG, Benedict Sayeh, said they cannot disclose because privacy limits them from sharing such reports about individuals with the public.
Mr. Sayeh said: “No one can discuss a medical report of a person with anybody or make it public because it is confidential. So we cannot give any of the patient’s medical report to the village people without his/her consent. What if a person has AIDS, do you think he would allow us to disclose it to the public?”
Sayeh said that a lady, who had claimed that her liver ailment was as a result of the spillage, was given her medical records upon request because she had told the company she wanted to get a second opinion.
He also informed reporters that owners of affected farmlands were paid compensation for their losses, adding: “Since 2014, MNG has paid over US$150,000 in crops compensation in accordance with the Ministry of Agriculture standards.”
Meanwhile a letter from the EPA to MNG Gold, dated November 11, 2017, indicates that following examination of the Sein Creek, there was zero concentration of cyanide. EPA has, however, told the company to construct at least six hand pumps within the community.
In compliance, MNG has drilled six boreholes to monitor ground water quality and at the same time oversee daily surface water at 20 points.
Furthermore, in line with EPA’s recommendations, MNG has done some improvements on their facilities, including drilling six additional boreholes to monitor the groundwater quality and daily surface water monitoring at 20 points.
MNG, according to unclassified information, said it has provided employment for 967 people with 790 of them Liberians.
In 2017, the company reportedly paid US$7.16 million to the government in tax, whilst it spent US$31million for local supplies.