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EPA Somersaults Over Cape Mount River Pollution

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Top: The Environmental Protection Agency has flipped its initial findings that Bea Mountain Mining Corporation caused the pollution of rivers in Grand Cape Mount County. Picture credit: Environmental Protection Agency/Facebook


By James Harding Giahyue

MONROVIA – The Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia (EPA) has cleared Bea Mountain Mining Corporation over the pollution of rivers in Grand Cape Mount, reversing its earlier findings that a waste facility operated by the company had polluted waterfronts in the western county.

“A technical team from the agency completed a final round of environmental assessment and water-quality testing on the Marvoe Creek downstream the New Liberty Goldmine… and is pleased to inform you that all facilities tested were appreciably below the permissible level set up by the EPA,” the agency said in a statement on Monday. It said it finalized its investigation in July.

The statement did not say what led to the reversal of the initial findings. The EPA had said it would conduct a final report only to find out what led to the death of fish, not a fresh round of investigation. However, it did not say what killed the fish.

The new findings are the complete opposite of the EPA’s preliminary findings back in June after villagers discovered dead fish and a dog in rivers they use for drinking.

It said at the time that “excess” 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.

“The analysis results showed higher than [the] permissible level of free cyanide (with source from the BMMC tailing storage facility),” it had said. “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...”

BMMC had denied the results, 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 at the time.

The EPA then reacted that two days later that its preliminary findings were “based on scientific analysis and data collected by well-trained technicians and scientists in the field.”

It had warned villagers not to drink from the water, asking the company to continue to supply affected communities.

The rivers are now consumable, the statement said, thanking villagers for cooperating with authorities, and the company for its support to villagers during the period of investigation.

Bea Mountain Truck Carrying Chemical Crashes in Cape Mount

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Top: A consignment of ammonium nitrate is seen scattered from the accident spot in Small Bomi, Sinje, Grand Cape Mount County. Picture credit: Philip Zodua


By Varney Karmara

SINJE, Cape Mount – A Bea Mountain truck carrying 26 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, which has caused some of the deadliest explosions in human history, crashed by a roadside in Sinje, Grand Cape Mount County in the early hours of last Saturday.

“Early Saturday morning, between 6 am [and] 7 am, we heard a loud sound as if a bomb had exploded. The sound was fearful, and everyone was warned to stay away from the chemicals which felt from the white truck,” said Mohammed Kawah, a resident of Small Bomi, where the accident occurred.

“The sound was so heavy to the extent that we started pushing everyone away from the truck,” Kawah added.  

The two men were injured in the accident, eyewitnesses told The DayLight. Raymond S, the driver of the vehicle, was critically wounded and is receiving treatment at the St. Timothy Hospital in Robertsport, the townspeople said. Rescuers had to use another Bea Mountain vehicle to pull one of the car’s doors open to get the trapped, wounded driver out of the damaged truck.

The truck, marked “TR-007,” was transporting the chemicals from Buchanan, Grand Bassa County to Bea Mountain’s industrial goldmine in Kinjor, Garwula District. Minutes after the accident, the company dispatched a team of workers from its chemical department, who teamed up with experts from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clear the scene of the accident. The team revisited the site once more after this reporter arrived there.

“They came and sprinkled water to the area where the chemical wasted on the ground and warned us not to go around there,” Boimah Kiadii, Town Chief of Small Bomi, told this reporter. “They also advised us not to make any fire around there.

“They told us that the chemical is not bad, but they also warned us not to go close to it, and this made us worry about our safety,” Kiadii said, adding that Bea Mountain distributed 10 bags of kg rice among villagers.

Bea Mountain employees at the site where one of the company’s trucks carrying 24 metric tons of ammonium nitrate crashed on Saturday in Sinje, Grand Cape Mount County. Picture credit: Philip Zodua

The ammonium nitrate was part of a 5,000-metric-ton consignment of the chemical whose shipment into the country the government approved earlier this year, official records show. The injured driver was trained in the handling of dangerous substances, the fatal transport approved and the vehicle licensed by the EPA in line with environmental regulations and guidelines.

Ammonium nitrate is a white sparkling solid chemical that consists of ions of ammonium and nitrate and is used to produce high yield explosives and as a fertilizer.  When coming in contact with direct heat, extreme sunray, or fire, ammonium nitrate can be very dangerous. It poses health, safety, and environmental risks. It can cause harm when swallowed, lead to eye irritation, produce toxic gas when mixed with acid, intensify the fire, and ignite an explosion when heated under confinement.

This is the second time Bea Mountain, owned by Turkish billionaire Nazif Günal, is appearing in the news for its controversial handling of ammonium nitrate. In 2020, the company imported 4,000 metric tons of the chemical without the approval of the EPA. That importation breached the EPA’s requirements for the shipment of chemical substances. The law prescribes a 20-year prison term, a fine of US$50,000 for a violator, or both. It is not clear whether Bea Mountain was fined at the time.

In August last year, residents of Kinjor saw their complaint against European financiers of Bea Mountain’s New Liberty Goldmine accepted over allegations of water pollution and failure to live up to the agreement it has with affected communities. The company signed a 25-year mineral development agreement with the government of Liberia in 2001 for the extraction of gold in the Garwula and Gola Konneh districts. In 2013, the deal was extended by another 25 years, taking it to 2038.

Efforts to reach Bea Mountain on the matter also did not materialize, as we were unable to get the exact location of the company’s headquarters in Monrovia and on Bushrod Island.

The EPA said in a news conference on Tuesday no residual of the chemical remained at the site of the crash. “No water sources were observed within [a] 10-meter radius of the area and the incident is unlikely to cause any adverse environmental or health risk to the residents of the Small Bomi community,” said Prof. Wilson Tarpeh, the executive director of the agency.  

Ammonium nitrate explosions have led to an array of disasters across the world, among them the Beirut Explosion of 2020 that killed 200 people, the 1921 Oppau explosion in which 500-600 people died, the 1947 Texas City disaster that killed 583 people, the 2015 Tianjin Explosions that killed 173 people.

Despite the danger it poses, some countries still use the substance, including the United States. Countries in Eastern and Western Europe are the largest consumers of the commodity, consuming 53 percent in 2019, according to British information provider IHS Markit. Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, Pakistan, and Turkey are among the countries that have banned the use of ammonia nitrate both as a fertilizer and explosive.  

Liberia has not banned ammonium nitrates, with Bea Mountain using the chemical for its operations, contributing US$9,583,127 to the national budget or 12 percent of the revenue generated by the country’s extractive sector in the 2018/2019 fiscal year, according to the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Imitative (LEITI). 

The Ammonium nitrate spilled in a private yard in Small Bomi in Sinje, Grand Cape Mount County. Picture credit: Philip Zodua

Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI) funded this story. The DayLight maintained editorial independence over its content.

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