Fidelis E. Satriastanti
Environmentalists have urged the government not to allow the operators of a gold mine in Sumbawa, West Nusa Tenggara, to continue dumping their tailings into the sea.
The tailing permit for Newmont Nusa Tenggara, the local unit of US mining giant Newmont Mining Corp., for its Batu Hijau gold and copper mine was granted in 2005 and expires this May.
Pius Ginting, campaign manager for mining at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said on Sunday that the dumping of tailings into the sea had reduced the coastal fish population and polluted the water.
He said tests by Walhi had shown the phytoplankton population in the water had decreased by almost 15 percent between 2006 and 2010, thus impacting the rest of the food chain and forcing fishermen to go further out to sea to catch fish.
Yani Sagaroa, head of Walhi’s national board and a Sumbawa resident, said that fishermen were now only making Rp 20,000 to Rp 25,000 ($2.30 to $2.90) a day from their dwindling catches, whereas in 2005, before the dumping began, they easily made Rp 100,000 a day.
“The tailings have even drifted as far as Lombok Island, and the fishermen have had to sail an extra 70 kilometers from their usual fishing grounds to get as many fish,” he said, adding that Newmont was dumping 110,000 to 160,000 tons of waste daily into the sea. “This is obviously hard on the subsistence fishermen sailing in small boats.”
Pius said the dumping had also clouded the water off the Sumbawa coast. He said the level of total suspended solids in the water there, a measure of the nonsoluble residue, had increased by almost 112 percent between 2006 and 2010.
“If you refer to the Marine Water Quality Criteria for the Asean region, then the normal change in TSS level is 10 percent per year,” he said.
“So over a period of four years, it should only be about 40 percent. But here it’s gone up by 111.7 percent, which is way too high.”
Pius said Walhi had sent a letter last month to the Environment Ministry to ask that it reject any extension of Newmont’s permit for submarine tailings disposal. He said there had been no response yet from the ministry.
Masnellyarti Hilman, the ministry’s deputy for toxic waste management, said her office was still reviewing the permit.
“Our team is conducting research in the field, so we’re still discussing the issue,” she said.
Indonesia is the only country where Newmont uses the STD method to dump its tailings, which it claims costs more than conventional methods but is more environmentally sound.
Fidelis E. Satriastanti