World Bank and Newmont corporation ignore human health impacts of mercury spill
LIMA (PERU) – Only few weeks ahead of a key ruling by the Peruvian constitutional court on the planned expansion of the Yanacocha gold mine, local Peruvian communities denounced the Minera Yanacocha final assessment of a June 2000 mercury spill.
Minera Yanacocha (a joint venture of Newmont, the world’s largest gold mining corporation, the World Bank Group and the Peruvian corporation Minas Buenaventura) presented the assessment on April 3, 2003 in Lima, Peru.
People from three villages affected by the June 2000 spill claim that Yanacocha fails to adress the direct impacts the mercury spill had on their health. This is just the latest episode in an ongoing tale of controversies surrounding the World Bank Group- supported Yanacocha gold mine.
Minera Yanacocha intends to expand mining operations to a mountain that is the main water source for the region’s capital, Cajamarca. Peruvians living near the mine have officially declared the mountain ‘off-limits’ for mining. Minera Yanacocha is currently appealing this declaration at the Peruvian constitutional court, explicitly acting against the wishes of the local population.
In June 2000, 151 kg mercury fell off a truck coming from the Yanacocha mine in Northern Peru, one of the largest gold mines in the world. People from surrounding villages did not know what the substance was and picked it up to take it home. To date, the corporation failed to provide affected people with alleviating treatment.
The corporation’s final assessment of the June 2000 mercury spill concludes that there are no unacceptable risks associated with the mercury spill. However, the methodology and scope of the assessment are highly questionable. The environmental studies do not assess direct human health impacts nor the contamination levels inside people’s houses. They merely describe the quality of water and the health of plants and insects.
The impacted communities were not officially notified of an April 3 presentation of the report in Lima. However, a large group of villagers traveled to the capital and stated that to date, the health problems they face have been neither analysed nor attended to.
‘It is unacceptable that the corporation neglects the direct impacts on people. Since the spill, people in three villages have been suffering from serious problems with their skin, vision and nervous systems. They still expect to receive adequate medical treatment, which should have been a first priority,’ said Carlos Abanto of Labor/Friends of the Earth Peru.
‘The World Bank Group as a shareholder should ensure that Yanacocha undertakes an analysis of people’s health and responds effectively to the existing problems’, according to Janneke Bruil of Friends of the Earth International. ‘The ongoing social conflicts surrounding the Yanacocha operations call into question whether public financing for this mine is appropriate’, Bruil added.
Minera Yanacocha is a joint venture of the US based Newmont Mining Corporation (51%), the Peruvian state-owned Compañia de Minas Buenaventura (44%) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC, 5%), the private sector finance arm of the World Bank Group. The Yanacocha mine has been the subject of two official complaints with the Ombudsman of the IFC. Since the start of its World Bank supported operations in 1993, the mine has given rise to deep social and environmental concerns. Drawing upon experiences in Peru and elsewhere, Friends of the Earth International is calling upon the World Bank to end its support for destructive mining and oil projects.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Carlos Abanto, Coordinator of the Lima office of Asociación Civil Labor/ Friends of the Earth Peru: + 511 261 65 15, www.labor.org.pe
Janneke Bruil, Coordinator International Financial Institutions Programme: +31 20 622 1369