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Bao Chico Pollutes Creeks, Destroying Homes

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Top: Gbanakao Creek near Bao Chico’s mine. The DayLight/Derick Snyder


By Esau J. Farr


COMPOUND-SU, Gbarpolu County – Bao Chico has polluted water sources in landowning communities, depriving locals of safe drinking water, a DayLight investigation found.

A team of DayLight reporters recently visited the operational areas of the Chinese-owned company and photographed creeks that are no longer safe for drinking.

Two major creeks, Mazine and Gbanakao, have all changed colors with greenish, brownish and blueish looks from remnants from Bao Chico’s mining activities.    

“This water, we used to drink it, but we can’t drink it now [because of Bao Chico’s operation],” said Salamah

Dukuly, owner of the Dukuly Village near Compound-Su.

“Because of that, we are forced to carry drinking water from the town to the farm,” said Zoe Freeman, another Compound-Su resident. 

DayLight saw a tributary of the Gbanakao Creek backfilled on the right side of a Bao Chico mine to clear it for mining and road pavement to transport ore to a plant. Reporters filmed dying vegetation at one of the polluted creeks nearby.

“When they [used to] get ready, the machine [would] just push [dirt] straight into the creek, thereby polluting the water,” said Sampson Lamah, spokesperson of the affected communities.

Bao Chico promised in a meeting with villagers to construct a handpump in each of the 32 affected communities, according to locals. However, only two hand pumps have been erected of which one is functional, the investigation found.  

Bao Chico mining activities have polluted Mazine, one of a few creeks used for drinking in landowning communities affected by the company’s operations. The DayLight/James Giahyue

Edwin Darju, the liaison officer of Bao Chico, admitted to the pollution of the creeks but denied the presence of any chemicals.

“I am not a technical person, but what I do know is there was a physical pollution and not chemical pollution,” Darju said.

That statement runs contrary to the facts because the company uses chemical explosives. Normally, residuals of mine explosions go downstream, polluting and poisoning waterways, experts say.

Bao Chico explosions throw large rocks into communities, according to locals. The DayLight/James Giahyue

Ammonium nitrate, dynamite and emulsion explosives are the commonly used chemicals for blasting by mining companies, all of which have negative effects on soil and the public. They are responsible for the overgrowth of algae, which depletes oxygen in water and harms water species.

Bao Chico signed an agreement with the Liberian government in 2022 to mine iron ore on 87.4 square kilometers in the Suhen Mecca District of Bomi and the Bopolu District.

It began polluting creeks from the beginning of its operations, sparking protests.

Blasting

The noise from the blasting and rock particles it produces also negatively affects the communities.

Zoe Freeman, a resident of Compound-Su, fainted after a mine explosion last year. The DayLight/James Giahyue

Last year, Freeman, the resident from Compound-Su, fainted during a round of explosions.  Bao Chico had not informed the community it would conduct blasts that day. Freeman was later taken to the Emirates Hospital in Bopolu, where she was treated and discharged, doctors at the hospital said.

As a result of that incident, the company runs public service announcements on the radio at least two days before an explosion procedure.  

“The Monrovia-Bopolu and Bomi-Bopolu roads in the blasting area will be temporarily closed and Bopolu police will maintain order and the closure time will last for 30 minutes,” an excerpt of a January announcement read.

The mine blasting, which takes place between 10 am and 5 pm, stalls the movement of people and farming activities.  

But it is the air pollution it produces that affects residents most.

“[People] can get sick here because of the odor from the chemicals used,” said Peter Paye, Town Chief of Compound-Su. Paye listed common cold, headache, diarrhea high blood pressure, and breathing difficulty, a claim DayLight could not independently verify.

The DayLight’s team of reporters also filmed cracked buildings and walls in Compound-Su and Baabu-Ta.

“The mud houses can’t stand the vibration,” said Kai Sirleaf, the Town Chief of Baabu-Ta.

These forms of pollution violate Bao Chico’s mining agreement with the Liberian government. It contains provisions that the company should abide by environmental health and safety guidelines in line with the World Bank’s standards.

An elevated view of Bao Chico’s plant. The DayLight/Derick Snyder

For instance, the World Bank’s standards call for waste dumps to be planned, designed and operated to manage environmental impacts. A recent DayLight investigation found Bao Chico was noncompliant with several levels of workplace safety standards.

Villagers are also concerned about the danger the blasting poses to their safety. Rock particles from the blasting spread across towns and villages causing fear among locals.

“We want to find means to move from here because, each time they want to blast, they will say you’ll move from here and go to the other side,” Salamah Dukuly of Dukuly Village said.

“My life is under threat. We should move from here,” said Dukuly. DayLight was not able to get the relocation plan of the company for locals residing in its concessional area.

Contractors at the company don’t have proper protective gear and there are no established health and safety committees, a violation of the labor and mining laws of Liberia.

The DayLight did not get comments from Bao Chico despite text messages and phone calls to the company’s manager, who was only identified as Mr. Lee.

Lee answered several calls placed to him, speaking English. However, he later pretended not to understand the language when this reporter introduced himself.  

A Bao Chico mine. The DayLight/James Giahyue

The United States Embassy in Monrovia provided funding for this story. The DayLight maintained editorial independence over its content.

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