Disposal of Mine Tailings Impact Human Health & Environment.
The Resource Owners Federation of PNG Inc. is concerned aboutthe dumping of mine tailingsand other waste in river systems, seas and oceans in the country. The Federation calls on the government to conduct a full inquiry into this practise to ensure that such primitive practices are phased out and prohibited for all mines in Papua New Guinea.
Each year, many mining companies dump millions of tonnes of hazardous mine wastes directly into rivers, lakes, and oceans of PNG, threatening important bodies of water with toxic heavy metals and other chemicals poisonous to the human, environment and the aquatic ecosystems.
The large volumes of waste, including solids, liquid effluents and air emissions, are natural products ofany mining and mineral processing operation. Solid wastes which comprise of waste rock and tailings are, by volume, the most significant waste generated by any mining and mineral processing activity.
Waste rock is typically dumped into large piles within a mine’s waste rock storage area, which can spread over an area of severalsquare kilometres. The course texture of waste rock allows air and water to easily move through the piles. Because much of the waste rock have never before been exposed to the elements, it can be reactive with the air, water and micro-organisms which could cause acid mine drainage, releasing metals to surface and ground water.
Tailings are usually discharged as slurry- thick liquid made up of water, the finely ground ore and any residual chemicals from the processing or milling. Tailings consist of finely ground rock which can become chemically reactive posing serious environmental risks. Acid rock drainage and the release of toxic metals, toxic reagents used in processing are also a threat to the environment. The combination of liquids and fine-grained solids can also cause many tailings to become physically unstable. If left exposed to the air to dry, tailings can also be blown through the wind causing air pollution and washed into waterways, harming aquatic ecosystems.
Toxic pollutants that are commonly found in tailings include; sodium cyanide, mercury, chloride, xanthates, hydrochloric acid, activated carbon, copper sulphate, sulphuric acid, iron, lead, arsenic, cadmium, selenium, zinc, nickel, and others.
Why PNG ispolitical leaders allow leading companies to continue to use irresponsible and primitive methods of waste disposal, while other developed nations by internal treaty prohibit the dumping of mine waste into natural bodies of water, is the question only they can answer.
With climate change impacts suchas droughts becoming increasingly noticeable, and with our human population reaching more than seven million, freshwater resources are critical to the survival of the humans and thenatural ecosystems which are increasingly threatened by depletion and pollution. The oceans and its resources are also under unprecedented and unsustainable pressure from direct contamination from mining waste, climate change and acidification from greenhouse gas emissions.
The mining industry must share the collective responsibility to protect water, theaquatic ecosystems and the human communities that rely on them.