General News Tue, 20 May 2003

Cynide Spillage -Communities Live In Fear

THERE was considerable spillage of cyanide into rivers and the natural environment in the Wassa West District of the Western Region last Sunday night as a result of mining activities by Gold Fields Ghana Limited.

The spillage, which was realised by the affected communities on Sunday, has caused fear and panic amongst the people, who suspect that the streams and wells which serve as sources of drinking water as well as fish and crabs in the rivers and other natural resources might have been contaminated.

Mr Albert Boateng, the Director of Technical Support Services of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Dr Toni Aubynn the Public Affairs and Community Relations Manager of Gold Fields Ghana Limited; and Mr Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, Executive-Director of the Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM), an NGO operating in the area, confirmed the cyanide spillage in an interview yesterday.

Mr Boateng said that the Wassa West District Officer of the EPA, Mr Ali Sando, has sent a report on the spillage to the EPA head office in Accra.

He said the company immediately evolved a contingency plan to offset the negative effect of the cyanide.

Mr Boateng, who declined to comment on the impact of the spillage, however, said a pronouncement will be made after the assessment of the situation.

Investigations revealed that officers at the mine did not inform the district officer of the EPA and the local communities, contrary to laid-down rules.

Sources said officers at the mine admitted the spillage only when they were confronted by the district officer of the EPA, following a report by WACAM.

Dr Aubynn however described the spillage as minor and within the operational area of the company. He said the cyanide did not enter streams, any outlets nor the environment to cause harm because it was immediately contained.

Dr Aubynn explained that the spillage occurred at an area where an expansion work is being carried out on a heap-leach.

He said the mine workers followed the approved reporting procedures on accidents.

Mr Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, Executive-Director of WACAM, told the Graphic that the company mobilised its workers to clean the affected areas in order to cover up.

He commended the district officer of the EPA for responding swiftly when he was informed by WACAM.

In October 2001, there was a cyanide spillage by the same mining company, which affected a number of communities, including Abekoase, Huniso, Samanhu, Terbie and others.

The company subsequently set up ?1.1 billion trust fund to help in the development of the areas but the chiefs and people of Abekoase rejected the package and instituted court action against the company.

Source: Graphic