7 polluting gold mines hit with 450m/- fines

The National Environment Management Council (Nemc) has slapped fines totalling Sh450 million on seven gold mines for environmental pollution that threatens biodiversity and human health.

The fine, the first of its kind, came after a three-week investigation, according to the head of a National Environment Management Council task force, Dr Yohana Mtoni. 

He told reporters yesterday that six of the gold mines were foreign-owned. 

Pictured is Mr Mwikwabe Mwita, an alleged victim of the contamination of a water source by a gold mine in Mara Region, attends a press conference in Dar es Salaam in June 2009.

The mines belong to the South Africa-based AngoGold Ashanti, London-based African Barrick Gold, Australia-based Resolute Limited and locally-owned El-Hillal Minerals Limited.

Dr Mtoni noted that a survey carried out between August 26 and September 18 established that the mines violated environment protection regulations by draining dirty and poisonous water into the environment and dumping both liquid and solid chemicals without first treating them.

Some of the mines also stand accused of failing to maintain their water dams, leading to dirty and poisonous leakages finding their way into water sources. 

“The security has also been lax in some mines, to the extent that people enter the mines and steal property that includes poisonous substances,” Dr Mtoni said. “This has led to their proliferation in the human habitats.”

Geita Gold Mine, owned by AngloGold Ashanti, led the pollution brigade and was handed a Sh170 million fine. Next came Buzwagi Gold Mine that is owned by African Barrick Gold (ABG). The mine located a few kilometres from Kahama town was fined Sh60 million, according to Dr Mtoni.

Other mines, fines in brackets, include North Mara (Sh60 million), Bulyanhulu (Sh55 million), Tulawaka (Sh25 million), Golden Pride (Sh40 million) and El-Hillal (Sh40 million).

Dr Mtoni ordered the mines to comply with the Environment Act of 1997 and has given them three months to sort out their waste disposal issues.

He added: “The mines should also stop all activities that lead to environmental degradation as per the Environment Protection Order. They should also know that Nemc’s inspections will be regular.”

Reacting to the report, Geita Gold mine officials admitted to having been hit with the Sh170 million fine.

The company’s communication officer, Mr Tenga B. Tenga, said the company would release an official statement today. “Yes, we have been fined the said amount and the company has not paid it yet,” said Mr Tenga. He did not give details of the toxic effluent but promised to reveal all in an official statement today.

ABG told The Citizen last night that the penalties had been suspended.

“We have been in communication with Nemc in relation to the correspondence received and understand that the penalties and the environmental notices have been suspended pursuant to further discussions. 

"We look forward to a constructive dialogue with Nemc in relation to matters raised, which takes account of ABG’s continued commitment to environmental excellence at all our operations,” said the firm’s public relations and communications manager, Nector Foya.

The fines come just two months after 12 villagers, including a man who has turned paraplegic, sued ABG for environmental pollution that injured them and their relatives and also killed their loved ones.

The villagers say ABG should be held accountable for the deaths and injuries, including complicity in the killing of at least six locals by police at North Mara mine. ABG denies the allegations.

In January, Nemc ordered North Mara mine to close a refuse pit due to toxic leakages that are contaminating water sources. During an investigation last year, Nemc officials found that lethal waste water from Barrick’s tailings storage unit was slowly seeping into the ground.

Despite the firm’s repeated attempts to stop the leakage, Nemc officials said, residue from the waste facility was still trickling deeper and deeper into neighbouring water sources.

Barrick had said the tailings facility was too small and had reportedly petitioned the environmental watchdog for permission to build an additional unit for storing mine dumps.

Tanzania opened its doors to big foreign miners in the late 1990s and became the fourth-largest gold producer in Africa, but the gold mining came with risks of environmental pollution.
Source: The Citizen, reported from Mwanza, Tanzania
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