Top: Inspectors of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) examine Bea Mountain’s waste facility in Grand Cape Mount County. Photo Credit: EPA
By Varney Kamara
(This is an updated version of the story, adding comments from Bea Mountain and a counterstatement from the Environmental Protection Agency)
MONROVIA – A spillage of a chemical from a waste facility operated by Bea Mountain Mining Corporation (BMMC) is responsible for the pollution of rivers in Grand Cape Mount County, which has deprived villagers of their livelihood in the region, a preliminary investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Liberia has found.
Cyanide, a chemical used to wash gold but dangerous to human health, 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.
“The analysis results showed higher than [the] permissible level of free cyanide (with source from the BMMC tailing storage facility),” a statement from the agency said on Friday. “The presence of excess cyanide led to the contamination of the water sources and that the situation has severely disrupted and injured the livelihood of the communities that depend on those water resources...”
But the EPA said that there could be other conditions that led to the death of the fish and that it would conduct further investigation.
Late last month, villagers in Jikando, Gorma and Madena in Gola Konneh District, discovered dead fish and a dog floating in the Weaju, Varwor, Mafa River and the Lake Piso, sending social media into a frenzy.
Authorities have stopped locals from using the rivers, forcing them to walk distances in search of safe drinking water. Bea Mountain has been distributing water to affected villagers.
“We welcome the report by the EPA but what we want now is for the people to take us from here because we are not safe,” Mustapha Pabai, town chief of Jikando, said after the report was released.
BMMC, denies any wrongdoing, saying EPA’s findings were “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 [tailing storage facility],” it said in a statement.
The EPA said in a counterstatement on Monday that it stood by its preliminary investigation, saying its findings were “based on scientific analysis and data collected by well-trained technicians and scientists in the field.”
Bea Mountain faces a US$50,000 fine or a 20-year prison term in line with the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia.
It is the second time that Bea Mountain has caused a spillage of cyanide in rivers in that region. 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 that case is pending.