Wednesday, July 1, 2009
North Mara Saga: Witnesses from the Ground
Friends, the North Mara saga pitting Barrick Gold Corporation, the local communities and Civil Society Organisations mindful of human beings and environment has culminated to accusing fingers. Due to this, I am going to be posting verbatim accounts from the people on the ground. This therefore, will be one of the series that I will be posting for the readers as I get the information. Let’s read together this account on what really happened in North Mara’s Barrick Gold Corporation mining site…
…I managed to rush to Nyamongo on 15th May 2009 in the afternoon where I joined a team from the Ministry of Water and Irrigation and the Regional Resident Mines Officer. This was after cutting short my field trip after receiving information on the pollution incident at the Barrick North Mara goldmines.
Here are some facts as far as the pollution of river Tigithe is concerned;
The problem of toxic spillage into the Tigithe River came from the Nyabigena mining area and is a result of acid water from acid retaining ponds infiltrating through the embankment that makes the haul road for ore from Nyabigena to the processing plant at Nyabirama, some 7km away. The acid water leachate flowed into river Tigithe polluting it and leaving behind dried grass and other plants. The effect of acid water to fish and other living things is obvious, until dilution happens to tolerant levels.
An eye observation of the waste rock materials from the Nyabigena goldmine show brownish colour indicating high content of sulfur. When this is exposed as it is, it oxidizes and with water, it forms Sulfur acid.
This is supported by geochemical analysis carried out during the development of a Supplementary Environmental Management Plan for the Gokona-Nyabigena goldmines project (Supplementary Environmental Management Plan (Gokona-Nyabigena).
Main Report, by EARTH SYSTEMS which revealed that waste rock materials from the Nyabigena pit showed high content of sulfur, is potentially acid forming and runoff from this waste rock can generate acidic leachate.
To contain this situation, the North Mara Goldmines (now under Barrick) constructed two ponds that would collect acid leachate from the Nyabigena waste rock dump by a series of pipes leading into these ponds.
In order to minimize acid infiltration, these two ponds were lined by a special PVC lining material laid at the base of the ponds. We saw part of this material that remained after some had been cut off from the sides of the pond through vandalism by the local community. (What the mines management told us.)
The top part of these two ponds was bare and would therefore allow this acid water, whose pH is between 2 -3 infiltrate through the road embankment to the other side and then easily flow into river Tigithe about 500m downstream. The system is such that one pond receives the leachate and at some level flows into the second pond, from which the acid water is pumped to the Tailings Storage Facility at Nyabirama.
There is however another pond that is not lined that receives acid water leachate from a new waste rock dump. This leachate flows as a small stream into this pond. Since this is not lined, it is therefore a major source of acid water infiltration through the road embankment to the other side and would easily find its way to the river.
When the acid water level in the ponds is low, the difference in hydraulic levels between the two sides is small and the rate of infiltration is also small and may not be noticeable on the ground surface.
There is another freshwater pond from which water is drawn by trucks of the company to water the road from Nyabigena mines to the processing plant at Nyabirama. The pH value tested instantly by the man from the water laboratory in Musoma indicated a reading of 9.2 (alkaline).
What happened on the Fateful day!
There was heavy rainfall on the fateful day resulting into higher flows of acid leachate into the ponds, which resulted into higher acid water levels and higher hydraulic gradient forcing a lot of acid water to infiltrate through the embankment and then flow into the Tigithe River. The unlined pond must have contributed much of this acid water runoff. The general impact of this situation includes;
• The permanent loss of the arable land through which the acid water flowed to river Tigithe through acidification
• Permanent threat to contamination by acidic drainage of water sources located within the periphery of this waste rock dump including Tigithe river
• Continuing conflicts between Barrick Goldmines and the local community
• We shall forever remain with this toxic stock pile of waste rock!
Actions to mitigate the situation!
According to a statement issued by the Mr. Teweli, the PR and Communications Officer for Barrick Gold Tanzania, the actions to mitigate the situation include;
• Pumping acid water from the pond that is not lined into that is lined with PVC (this was observed at the site)
• Fitting of new liners
• Interception methods to prevent lower pH water from leaving the site
• Relocation of temporary low grade ore stockpile
• Agreement with community leaders to ensure that acts of vandalism affecting the integrity of the ponds do not reoccur
The same stories when something fateful happens! Who is going to monitor and ensure that these actions are fulfilled? Who is going to rehabilitate the acidified farm of this poor farmer? Or who is going to compensate this family for the permanent loss of their land through acidification?
There are several questions without Answers.
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