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by Beldina NyakekeThe Citizen (Tanzania)
January 26th, 2013

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.

Barrick 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.

“Nemc 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.


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