Saturday, August 19, 2017

Locals concerned over water safety after tailings dump

Thousands of Magwe residents are concerned mining slag heaps recently deposited in streams near the Tout Tat mountain could have harmful environmental side effects. The now expansive, 4 acre, 30-foot-high tailing was discarded by a chromite mineral mine that has recently been abuzz with activity, according to local residents and representatives of the regional Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

The slag heap near Tut Tat mountain has grown to about 30 feet high, covering a 4-acre expanse. Photo: Nay Aung / The Myanmar TimesThe slag heap near Tut Tat mountain has grown to about 30 feet high, covering a 4-acre expanse. Photo: Nay Aung / The Myanmar Times

The chromite mine in Ngape township’s Pin Oo village tract has operated for almost three years, former township administrator U Tin Shein said. But the slag heaps alongside the Tout Tat mountain streams are new, according to residents.

Around 4000 people from five Ngape township villages rely on water from a spring about two miles away from where chromite mining is currently underway.

“If the mountain is dug up and destroyed, the spring may dry up and our village will be without water,” said U Kyar, a township elder from Ngayant Chaung village. “The villagers want the mountain to remain the same. We want nature to be untouched.”

Even if the villagers’ water source does not dry up, they fear their health may still be at risk due to pollution from the mining if it is not properly managed.

Chromite deposits are mined to produce chromium, used in the plating or alloying of stainless steel. A number of potential by-products of this type of mining operation can pose a threat to public health.

According to a 2012 report by MiningWatch Canada, the exposure of chromite ore to aboveground conditions that encourage weathering and oxidation can lead to the creation of toxic and carcinogenic material. This substance, if ingested through drinking water, has been linked to oral and intestinal cancers.

While Pin Oo village tract residents say they were informed of a mine starting in the area in 2014, they were not told any more specific details about it, including whether there would be environmental impacts.

“I was not asked to give any recommendation or approval while I was administrator, which is required for this type of mining,” said U Tin Shein, former administrator of the Pin Oo village tract. He added that he believes the name of the company operating the mine is Golden Silver Land.

But details surrounding the mine’s operators and how they gained approval for the site remain patchy.

“We only know a few general facts. We know that the company has not made any agreement with the residents, even though for a metal mining license application this is required,” said Ko O Lar, a representative for the Myanmar Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

When The Myanmar Times visited temporary offices set up on the mine on December 13 only one backhoe and dump truck were on the site. Staff said that the head of the operation was away on business.

“We have been unable to firmly ascertain who is running this operation through our observations of the site. No signage has been erected and there are complications with the agreements which have been submitted. There is no transparency,” Ko O Lar said.

Attempts by the EITI representatives to set up a meeting with the company and local residents have also proved unsuccessful, though they have gathered samples from the streams surrounding the Tout Tan mountain to test whether the water source has been contaminated.

“The same has been collected and sent to Yangon for analysis. We will check whether [the slag heap deposits] are having a harmful effect or not,” he added.

Translation by San Layy and Khine Thazin Han