... EPA maintains, claims that higher than permissible levels of free cyanide (with source from the BMMC tailing storage facility) led to the contamination of the water sources... just a day after the company rejects the agency finding.
Following a statement by Bea Mountain Mining Company (BMMC) that it rejects the preliminary findings of the EPA investigation that linked the company to water pollution in waterways in Grand Cape Mounty County, the Environmental Protection Agency says that it stands by its preliminary findings and categorically states that the findings were based on scientific analysis and data collected by well-trained technicians and scientists in the field.
EPA, in a release, said it maintains the authenticity of the preliminary findings, which stated that "The analysis results showed higher than [the] permissible level of free cyanide (with source from the BMMC tailing storage facility). The presence of excess cyanide led to the contamination of the water sources and the situation has severely disrupted and injured the livelihood of the communities that depend on that water resources."
"There were deaths to aquatic species including fish, crabs, crawfish, and other fauna inhabitants; and these fatalities were caused by asphyxiation (deprivation of oxygen needed to sustain life underwater). [But] there could be other conditions that led to the death of the fish and that it would require additional investigation," the EPA said in its findings.
Cyanide, a chemical used to wash gold but dangerous to human health, allegedly spilled from the facility at the company's New Liberty Gold Mine in Kinjor and emptied into the rivers villagers used for cooking, fishing, and washing, the EPA said.
It added that it will move ahead with plans to further widen the investigation including the invitation of a third-party EPA-certified consultant/Laboratory to further determine the cause of death of the aquatic species.
"The Agency maintains the authenticity of the preliminary findings and the integrity of its work. The EPA, therefore, calls on the management of Bea Mountain Mining Corporation to cooperate with the investigation.
"EPA technicians and scientists in the field conducted scientific investigations downstream of BMMC operations and continued upstream to assess the quality of the water, probing the authenticity of the alleged pollution and trace plausible source(s) of pollution. The initial phase of the investigation included sample collection, social interviews, community engagement, environmental scoping, geospatial data, and drone imagery.
The EPA release was in response to BMMC categorically rejecting and disagreeing with the EPA claim that higher than permissible levels of free cyanide with source from the company were responsible for the pollution of the Marvoe Creek and the Mafa River in Grand Cape Mount County.
For Bea Mountain, they are not just categorically rejecting the EPA preliminary findings but the claims being made by the EPA as to the degree and extent of testing conducted "so far are inconclusive and filled with analytical gaps."
"We are confident and particularly reaffirm our position of being in no breach of any required scientific standards. We note that the EPA has found no evidence of damage to or any spill or irregular discharge from the TSF [tailing storage facility]. In fact, our TSF is routinely monitored in accordance with international standards by an independent and internationally accredited design company.
"Our disagreement is further supported by the fact that the EPA itself has called for further investigations (and the EPA's opinion that its test results for Cyanide are far below what is required to cause fatality)," BMMC said.
The Cape Mount incident, which occurred a few weeks ago, came to light after villagers in Jikando, Gorma, and Madena in Gola Konneh District, discovered several dead fish and a dog floating in the Weaju, Varwor, and Mafa River, thereby depriving them of their livelihood as they are forced to walk distances in search of alternative sources of safe drinking water.
Bea Mountain has, however, been distributing water to affected villagers and could face a US$50,000 fine or a 20-year prison term in line with the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia if the EPA findings are true.
It would be the second time that Bea Mountain has caused a spillage of cyanide. In 2016, spillage from the company's waste facility polluted water sources in the area. The company claimed at the time the incident did not affect people but villagers said it caused them rashes.
Also, in February last year, over 10,000 villagers in that region, including Jikando, filed a complaint against German and French banks DEG and Proparco, respectively, for their involvement in the New Liberty Gold Mine. The aggrieved villagers accuse the company of several things, including land-grab and water pollution. The outcome of this case is pending.
The EPA has however disclosed in its preliminary findings as it relates to the Marvoe Creek and the Mafa River that, at the time of sampling, the level of free cyanide was below the limits scientifically required to cause such fatality as found in the circumstance, a situation which requires further probe, especially "when there are other conditions that could cause this degree of distress and or death of the aquatic fauna."
Citing the EPA's call for an additional probe, Bea Mountain said that it welcomes the Agency's decision to expand the testing by inviting the participation of competent independent "third-party entities and fully commits to remain cooperative in this effort to establish the facts."
Meanwhile, the EPA has renewed its calls on the BMMC to continue the provision of water, fish, and other protein sources to the affected communities.