PB Editors note: while this article references an investigation last year which revealed the toxic leaching, this problem has existed since 2006. In 2009, after heavy rains, toxins leaking into the River Tigithe reportedly killed over 20 people and over 100 cows.
Musoma. Mining giant African Barrick Gold was yesterday ordered to
close a pit refuse facility at North Mara due to toxic leakages that are
contaminating local water sources.
During an investigation last
year, National Environment Management Council (Nemc) officials found
that lethal waste water from Barrick’s tailings storage unit was slowly
seeping into the ground.
Despite repeated attempts by the mining
firm to rein in the oozing, Nemc officials say residue from the North
Mara waste facility still trickles deeper and deeper into nearby water
sources.Barrick says the current tailings facility is too small, and has
petitioned the environmental watchdog for permission to build an
additional unit for storing mine dumps.
However, Nemc director
Robert Ntakamulenga says that in its current form, this proposal is a
non-starter. A larger waste-processing facility will exacerbate the
risks of a toxic leak, he said.
He is giving the mining outfit 24
months to rectify the situation. “The current tailings storage facility
should be closed within two years to avoid any environmental issues,”
said Dr Ntakamulenga.
Nonetheless, the environmental body has
lifted a 2009 ban that barred Barrick from releasing effluent from the
North Mara pits into local dumpsites, to the chagrin of local residents.
The Environmental Protection Order (EPO) went into effect after toxins from the mine seeped into the nearby Tigite River.
has since put up a water treatment plant, and according to Dr
Ntakamulenga, is in compliance of local environmental protection
statutes. Matongo Village chairperson Daudi Itembe does not see things
quite the same way. He accuses Nemc of putting investor interests before
the needs of his people.
That is why it took the agency so long
to act on complaints over toxic discharge from Barrick’s tailings
storage unit, he said. When Nemc officials visited the place in
December, they saw evidence of leakage, according to Mr Itembe. Why
didn’t they take immediate action, he asks.
“If their parents
lived here, would they have dawdled on this issue?” he quipped, adding
“They are doing this to us because they have no relatives here; no one
they know is hurt by poisonous effluent.”
Elisha Nyamhanga, a
village elder at Nyangoto, faults Nemc’s decision to give Barrick two
years to shut down the North Mara tailings storage unit.
did not tell them when to stop using the facility, so this does mean
they can go on using it until the end of the year and we are none the
wiser,” said Mr Nyamhanga.
“They are putting our lives in danger,” he added.