Lethal Cyanide Spill in Ghana Outrages Gold Mining Communities

By Mike Anane

ACCRA, Ghana, July 25, 2006 (ENS) - Residents of Dumasi and surrounding villages in Ghana’s western region are demanding a total audit of all operations of the Canadian-owned mining company Bogosu Gold Ltd. The gold mines are located 200 kilometers (120 miles) west of the capital, Accra.

Speaking on behalf of the people of Dumasi, Chief Nana Korchie said, "Bogosu Gold Ltd. has been operating in their communities with impunity for the past years extracting gold with little regard for the environment, health and well-being of local people and this is the moment to say enough is enough to our problematic neighbor."

Chief Korchie explained that the grievances of residents of Dumasi and surrounding villages stretch back many years. But the last straw that broke their back is the cyanide spill which occurred on June 16, 2006.

For the second time in two years, cyanide from Bogosu Gold’s new tailings dam washed into the Ajoo stream, the only stream left in the community. The deadly chemical killed fish, crabs and lobsters and polluted the stream, which is the source of drinking water for the Dumasi community and its environs.

Chief Korchie said some unsuspecting residents of Dumasi harvested the dead fish and crabs floating in the Ajoo stream and ate them before they had information about the cyanide spill. Some of the villagers along the Ajoo stream drank from the stream before they were told that the water was contaminated with cyanide, which is used to extract gold from ore.

This is the second time in less than two years that Bogosu Gold Ltd. has been responsible for a cyanide spill that has endangered lives and the environment at Dumasi.

“In the previous cyanide spill on October 2004 in Dumasi, two pipes decoupled at a joint at the same tailings dam belonging to Bogosu Gold Ltd. and cyanide spilled killing fish and wildlife in the same Ajoo stream and river Apepre which flow into the big river Ankobra," said Chief Korchie.

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Cyanide warning sign put up after the 2004 cyanide spill in Dumasi. (Photo courtesy No Dirty Gold)
Virtually all life forms in the Ajoo stream and river Apepre and its tributaries were killed, and some residents fell ill when they drank from the polluted water and ate some of the dead fish. Several communities including Dumasi were left without drinking water and their sources of livelihood, but Bogosu Gold Ltd. has paid no compensation to the affected communities.

"Two years on, little appears to have changed in terms of the company’s disregard for the environment and rights of communities in which it operates, and here we are with another cyanide spill from the same mining company," Chief Korchie lamented.

The producing company is Golden Star, headquartered in Littleton, Colorado, but incorporated in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Golden Star's main properties are in Ghana where it owns 90 percent of the Bogosu/Prestea open-pit gold mine; 10 percent is owned by the Ghanaian government. The company also owns 45 percent of the Prestea underground mine, 45 percent is owned by Prestea Gold Resources, and 10 percent by the government of Ghana, as well as other properties.

Over the years, large tracts of land belonging to the people of Dumasi have been taken over by Bogosu Gold, depriving farmers of Dumasi of their means of livelihood. The land takeovers have increased the unemployment rate in the town and deepened the poverty of the surrounding communities.

The chief accused Bogosu Gold of constructing one of their mining pits at the headwaters of six streams, a situation he says has caused streams such as Akyesua, Nana Nyabua, Worawura, Abogyese and others to dry up.

"My brother, we are fed up with Bogosu Gold Ltd. We are therefore calling on the government to immediately conduct a total audit of the operations of Bogosu Gold Ltd. This should include thorough investigations of all human rights abuses and environmental crimes committed by the company against communities in which it operates," Chief Korchie said.

In his Accra office, Magnus Adja Kodjo, public affairs manager of Bogosu Gold, confirmed the cyanide spill on June 16. However, he claims that the damage and dangers to the community and the environment were minimal.

Bogosu

Crushed ore stockpile at the Bogosu Gold mine (Photo courtesy Golden Star Resources)
He explained that the spillage of cyanide used to extract gold from crushed rock occurred when a joint on the main tailings returning pipe carrying tailings from the processing plant into the tailings dam was disengaged. Cyanide-laden tailings spurted out into the environment.

Kodjo claims that soon after the breach was detected, company officials informed members of the Dumasi community about the cyanide spill.

"The community members were requested subsequently not to use water from the Ajoo stream for any purpose and also not to consume any fish, either live or dead, from the stream until otherwise notified," Kodjo said.

The stream was flushed with neutralizing chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide, Kodjo said, adding, "We are confident that the contamination has been substantially contained to the immediate area."

He said the company was quick to enlist support of the district Environmental Protection Agency, whose officers inspected the site and expressed satisfaction with the way the company handled the situation.

Nana Andoh, head of the mining department at the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also confirmed the cyanide spill. He said the EPA will not be able to say anything about the extent of damage caused by the cyanide until they have analyzed water samples and dead fish pulled from the Ajoo stream and river Apepre.

“We are taking the samples to three different laboratories in the country, and we would come out with our report when the laboratory analysis is completed. We are, however, monitoring the situation," Andoh said.

He said that the EPA had, as a matter of urgency, directed Bogosu Gold Ltd. to provide adequate potable water to all affected communities downstream of the point of cyanide discharge.

Reacting to claims by Dumasi residents that the company's operations have resulted in the death of six streams, depriving villagers of drinking water, Kodjo explained that the company had constructed boreholes for the affected communities.

“We also provide them daily with water from water tankers and we are constructing a water treatment plant for the community,” Kodjo said.

But residents interviewed at Dumasi contested this angrily, saying that when they boil their plantains and cassava with the water from Bogosu Gold's boreholes, the food turns dark blue.

This was corroborated by Andoh of the Ghana EPA, who attributed the dark blue coloration of to the high iron content in the water in the boreholes.

At nearby Prestea township in western Ghana, where Bogosu Gold has another mine, residents and medical authorities at Prestea government hospital are seething with discontent. They say Bogosu Gold operations have devastated a spring and deprived thousands of drinking water, including the hospital.

Prestea residents complain that Bogosu Gold is mining too close to the town and the vibrations from the blasting of rocks have cracked the foundations of buildings in the area.

Prestea

The Golden Star Resources gold mine at Prestea. Residents complain the mine operations have usurped their drinking water supply. (Photo © Mike Anane)
The situation in Prestea has exploded into violence. On June 15, 2005, seven people were shot and wounded by a combined team of the police and the military when members of the affected communities took to the streets to protest against the increasing human rights violations and environmental abuse by Bogosu Gold.

More than a year later, the Prestea spring that Bogosu Gold covered with waste rock has not been uncovered. The company is still mining too close to the town and the noise and vibrations from their blasting activities have worsened and become unbearable for the communities.

"But the regulatory agencies still look on unconcerned,” said Eric of the Concerned Citizens of Prestea, who declined to give his last name.

Officials in both Prestea and Dumasi accuse state regulatory agencies of presiding over the destruction of entire river systems and livelihoods.

“We are shocked and dismayed that despite the frequency and scale of the cyanide spills and other human rights violations meted out to communities by Bogosu Gold Ltd., these state regulatory agencies keep rejecting calls to impose tougher rules and fines on the company," Chief Korchie said.

“It has been two years now since the previous cyanide spill occurred at Dumasi and none of the state regulatory agencies has come out with a report on the incident," he said.

Joshua Awuku, executive director of the environmental group Earth Service said, "It is no secret that Bogosu Gold Ltd.’s operations are causing too much misery and suffering in Prestea and Dumasi and we cannot continue to behave like ostriches and pretend that all is well."

At Bogosu Gold, Kodjo discounted these accusations, claiming that the company's impact in Prestea and Dumasi has been grossly exaggerated.

“Bogosu Gold Ltd. is a responsible company, and it remained committed to dialogue with the people of Dumasi and Prestea and surrounding villages,” Kodjo said.

But Dumasi and Prestea residents reject this claim. They say that over the years they have collectively organized and repeatedly complained to Bogosu Gold about the increasing environmental degradation and human rights violations that they were experiencing as a result of the company’s operations in their communities.

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Joyce Oboako was knocked from her bed by a mine blast in Prestea, Ghana, and suffered brain damage and paralysis. (Photo by Andres McKinley courtesy Oxfam America)
They say Bogosu Gold brought in the military to brutalize them anytime they protested. They accused the company of using the military and the company’s own security to provoke social instability and insecurity in the affected communities through threats and intimidations and firing on unarmed protestors.

Some mining company executives are worried that Bogosu Gold Ltd.’s repetitive cyanide spill will dent the public’s confidence in the mining industry’s ability to manage its environmental impact.

Suleiman Koney of the Ghana Chamber of Mines acknowledges this possibility. He explains that such incidents are worrying, especially when the Ghana mining industry just had their annual general meeting where key industry players extolled the virtues of the mining industry.

Koney said, “Such incidents, of course, are completely unacceptable to the communities and to the mining industry. We have a code of conduct and we have asked Bogosu Gold Ltd. to send us a report. We are also in touch with the Environmental Protection Agency and we have also asked them for a report."

Owusu Koranteng, executive director of the Wasssa Association of Communities Affected by Mining, believes that the spate of cyanide spills in Ghana is indicative of bad mining practices.

He said Ghana has recorded more than nine cyanide spills since the liberalization of the mining sector, and this has affected community livelihoods, with tremendous impacts on women in particular.

Monica Yeboah of FIAN Ghana, an affiliated section of FIAN International, the Food First Information and Action Network based in Heidelberg, Germany, warns that concern is rising about the increasing violation of the right to water in Dumasi and Prestea, as a result of Bogosu Gold's operations there.

“It is worth noting that Ghana is a state party to the international covenant on economic social and cultural rights and is therefore obliged to respect, protect and fulfill the right to water," Yeboah said.

"The restoration of sustainable livelihoods and the protection of clean water for the communities affected by Bogosu Gold Ltd.’s operations are therefore imperative for both government and the company,” she cautions.

For many, transnational gold mining companies in Ghana are increasingly becoming controversial over the years for their lack of environmental controls and violations of human rights. Many believe that tough laws and fines may be the only way to deal with recalcitrant mining companies and the many human rights and environmental crimes they inflict on communities in which they operate.

Akosua Akyea, a 28 year old farmer and mother of six, and her neighbors want the old days back - with clean water, healthy farm produce and a future to look forward to.

"All that we are asking for is a total audit of all the operations of Bogosu Gold Ltd. Enough is enough, the party is over and it's time for Bogosu Gold Ltd. to remove the mask. When the forests are gone and the rivers are dry and the air is fouled, of what good is gold?" she asks, as tears well up in her eyes.

Golden Star is in the midst of a major expansion at the Bogosu/Prestea mine. On June 29, the company stated that "positive progress" is being made on a sulfide expansion project at the mine. When the expansion project is completed late in the third quarter of 2006, it will be the largest of its type in the world.

For technical and historical information about the Bogosu/Prestea Mine, visit Golden Star Resources online at: http://www.gsr.com/Operations/Index.asp