Newmont and WALHI in poisoning row

Down to Earth No. 48 February 2001

US-based mining giant Newmont has launched an aggressive attack on environmental group WALHI, over accusations of damage to human health at the company's gold mine at Ratatotok, North Sulawesi.

In January WALHI announced the results of blood tests on 20 people living at Buyat Bay, near PT Newmont Minahasa Raya's mine. The people had all complained of deteriorating health during the past three years. Blood samples, taken by WALHI North Sulawesi and JATAM and analysed in a US laboratory, showed high levels of arsenic and mercury. This is an indication, says WALHI, that heavy metals from tailings are getting into the food chain and endangering human health. Fearing a repeat of Japan's Minamata mercury poisoning tragedy in North Sulawesi,WALHI is urging the department of health to carry out more investigations. WALHI is also demanding that Newmont stops dumping tailings in the sea during the investigations.

Newmont has blamed the pollution at Buyat Bay on local illegal miners. At a public debate the company's public relations chief, Tri Hardjono, said the company appreciates any research conducted by government agencies or non-governmental organisations, provided the results are not manipulated "to confuse the people".

WALHI, JATAM and other NGOs have waged a long-running campaign to expose environmental damage at the mine, which uses the submarine tailings disposal (STD) method. This channels waste through pipelines and dumps it on the seabed (see DTE 47 for more background). Both the Sulawesi mine and Newmont's Batu Hijau copper, gold and silver mine on Sumbawa island use STD. 
(Source: WALHI press release, 22/Jan/01; Indonesian Observer 24/Jan/01)


Batu Hijau tailings pipe fails

A local NGO has reported another leak in PT Newmont Nusantara's tailings pipe at its Batu Hijau gold, copper and silver mine on Sumbawa island. The leak affected plants and grass around the pipe, after the company failed to attend to a small hole detected earlier, according to local reports.

JATAM, Indonesia's national mining advocacy network, says the incident is further evidence that the method of tailings disposal used at this mine and Newmont's North Sulawesi operation is not safe. JATAM cites several spills from the disposal pipe at the Ratatotok gold mine in Minahasa, North Sulawesi.

JATAM wants the government to ban the use of STD and to hold PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara to account for the pollution caused. (JATAM press release 10/Jan/01) Another small bomb went off in PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara's office on Lombok in January, following a previous incident in October last year. There were no injuries. (AP 28/Jan/01)


STD paper

Into the unknown regions: the hazards of STD is a new paper prepared by Roger Moody of Nostromo Research for Down to Earth and Minewatch Asia-Pacific. This paper was written in advance of a forthcoming meeting on STD in Indonesia.

An abbreviated version has been posted on our campaigns page. 
Email copies of the full text are also available upon request to