Liberia: Bong Community Demonstrates Over Contamination of Water By Gold Mining Company

Monrovia — Residents in Sayewheh Town in Bong County are concern that the presence of a Tilling Storage Facility or TSF belonging to Turkish mining company MNG Gold within the vicinity of a local school is allegedly posing health hazard to the students.

Protest on Monday, 22 October by mostly mothers of pupils of the school called for the remover of the TSF after over 20 children had fallen ill.

They were showing several symptoms of illness like vomiting with blood, stomach pain and fever.

The community, located in Suokoko District in the central Liberian county, hosts the largest mining installation of the MNG Gold in the country. The firm took over from the American-Liberian Mining Company (AmLib) in 2013 and began mining gold in August 28, 2015 after acquiring a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Under the Mineral Development Agreement signed between AmLib and the government of Liberia in 2005, the company is required to ensure that citizens' life is protected from chemicals and care for citizens in case of health problems arising from exposure to chemicals.

In the recent incident, one of the students, who had vomited with specimen of blood, was taken to the Phebe Hospital - located off the City of Gbarnga - and tests result showed that she had ulcer, malaria and typhoid, suggesting that there was no trace of a chemical pollution.

However, the community is claiming that the hospital's findings are in "sharp contrast to the reality" as suspicions intensify that the 2017 chemical spillage is creating the health concerns.

An MNG staff told FrontPageAfrica Tuesday that representative of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), the EPA, Bong County Superintendent and county lawmakers held talks with the affected community and assured further investigation into the situation.

The staff refuted allegations that the TSF was discharging pollutants that are infecting the students, adding that only NPHIL and the county health team can prove that the mining facility is causing environmental harm for the community. However, the company official said it is awaiting the result of the investigation.

Meanwhile, normal instructional activities of the school have been put on hold and will remain until the government can make intervention, says R-Kay Steve Johnson, Spokesperson of the Sayewheh Town steering committee.

"The present situation is that they [MNG Gold] have the TSF just three minutes away from the school campus so our fear is that the children get sick after it shall have rained... and the air pollution from the TSF comes toward the campus," said Johnson, who is also the chairman of the school's PTA.

The new TSF was constructed following the 2017 chemical spillage and but the community is claiming that the new facility didn't meet the entire environment protection standard.

"It is just three minutes away and that makes it much more hazardous to the life of our kids," he said.

The community is now pushing for the relocation of the TSF from within the vicinity of the school. In June this year the community said it wrote the firm alarming the danger of the TSF to the students, but the community alleges that the mining company ignored their concerns.

The community also accused the Environmental Protection Agency of "paying deaf ear to our plight."

"We don't appreciate the involvement of the EPA in the entire situation" due to the agency inability to resolve the situation, said Johnson.

Community representatives say any pending discussion to resolve their ongoing concern "will be far removed from the chemical spillage of 2017".

"We are not going to discuss that because that matter is already in court," the community spokesman said.

The recent allegation comes after lawyers representing Saywheh Town and its surrounding villages filed a suit on October 8 against the company, preying the circuit court to bring its manager Erkan Akogol, Serhan Urmurham, Chief Executive Officer and all deputy managers and supervisors of MNG Gold Liberia before it during the November Term of Court.

The writ carries a 33-count complaint against the Turkish gold mining firm, including details about the aftermath of the pollution and how it is affecting the communities including the major water source, fauna and flora and locals' livelihood.

The suit also recounts how the malfunctioning of the company's tailing storage facility created the catastrophe for the local people.

The affected communities, which have a population of over 1,900 residents who are mostly peasant farmers, depend on their immediate environment where they plant rice, cassava and other food crops. They also rely on Sein Creek as the main source of water, which has been contaminated by the cyanide spillage.

The writ also catalogued the trend of events following the over flowing of the MNG's tailing storage on September 26 and 27, 2017, accusing the company of neglecting to alert the community about the danger of the chemical spillage.

"That the overflow and rapture of the TSF dam was with the knowledge of MNG Gold which refused and neglected to take any action to avoid the catastrophe," states the writ, adding that over 3 million gallons of diverse chemicals containing cyanide, zinc, arsenic and other heavy metals were leaked into the major river of the community.

The communities are also contending that the discharged of the chemical in their environment is a violation of Liberia's Public Health law and that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) permit granted to the company in 2015.

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