22 November 2012

Namibia: Arsenic Contamination At Tsumeb 'Insignificant'

Windhoek — Reports about arsenic contaminated water, as a result of the operations of Namibia Custom Smelter, in the Tsumeb district and in the town are based on a typographic error in the government audit report, following investigations of arsenic contamination in and around Tsumeb, the Canadian copper smelting company has said.

Namibia Custom Smelters (NCS), a subsidiary of Dundee Precious Metals Inc., has been under constant scrutiny since reports surfaced in 2010 that residents and vegetation around Tsumeb smelter are exposed to arsenic elements from the processing of copper concentrate imported from Bulgaria.

The reports drew the attention of government, which conducted a number of audits on residents and the environment.

The final report did made strict recommendations to NCS, asking the smelter to take immediate steps to protect the health of residents and to protect the environment.

The audit report also indicated that water used by residents of the town's Ondundu area was contaminated by arsenic from the Tsumeb smelter.

NCS is now saying that that was essentially "a typographical error in the audit report, which erroneously indicated high levels of arsenic".

"In fact, independent tests conducted on Ondundu's water - as well as water supplied to the Tsumeb community at large - verify that it contains insignificant amounts of arsenic.

"These insignificant amounts are well within the government's guidelines for excellent-quality drinking water," the smelter's superintendent for public relations Jim Kastelic said in a statement.

A correction of this mistake has shown that water at Ondundu has extremely low arsenic levels that are far below the maximum allowable levels for arsenic in Class A, which is excellent-quality water.

"In short, Ondundu's water poses absolutely no danger to residents," he said.

The smelter says there is no contamination from the smelter in any groundwater used by the Tsumeb community. This has been independently confirmed by both the NCS's monthly water-quality monitoring programme and by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry.

"NCS takes its commitment to assess, monitor and manage its potential water impacts very seriously. All indications are that smelter operations have no impact on water or the health and wellbeing of Tsumeb residents. NCS will continue to manage its operational use of water to the highest standards to ensure that it has no adverse effects on those who use it," said the statement.

In the meantime the smelter has initiated a number of activities to reinforce this commitment, which includes spending N$1 million to assist the Tsumeb Municipality to replace and improve its water-supply services to the town of Tsumeb.

The smelter says this is an urgent and high-priority project, and the municipality has requested NCS's assistance to see it through to completion.

The smelter will also continue to research and assess ways to mitigate the already low risks from the storage facility and is consulting with global experts and research institutions to develop a long-term management plan as agreed with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. "This work exceeds the basic requirements set out in relevant legislation," said Kastelic.

Moreover, the NCS will soon commission consulting engineers to develop a comprehensive surface water management plan for the smelter to address many of the on-site, historical issues that affect surface and storm water management. An airborne survey will also be undertaken using aerial photography to map out historical land contamination, water movement, the condition of vegetation and other environmental metrics.

This will be the first time in the 50-year history of the smelter that this level of assessment will be done and will conclusively establish the smelter's past and present environmental footprint. The smelter has changed hands several times over the past five decades.

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