International conference calls for international ban on ocean dumping of mine waste

Scientists, NGO representatives, government officials and community members from the Asia-Pacific region, North America and the UK have called for an end to the dumping of mine waste at sea, a common practice in Asia, at a conference in Indonesia.

The conference in Manado on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi resoundly rejected Submarine Tailings Disposal (STD) as a method of mine waste disposal, citing evidence of threats to marine resources, negative health impacts, devastation of coastal economies, and scientific inaccuracies from STD mines operating throughout the Asia-Pacific region. In addition, the mining industry is currently attempting to open dozens of STD mines across the region, delegates heard.

According to the NGO, Mineral Policy Institute (MPI), the mining industry does not have the science to back up its claims that STD is environmentally safe, which says that “there is strong evidence to the contrary” at STD mines in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Tailings from the Papuan Misima mine in have smothered the ocean floor over an area of approximately 20 square kilometres (eight square miles), MPI says. Satellite imagery of the country’s other STD mine on the island of Lihir shows a plume of mine waste which fills the bay, the group says.

In Indonesia, two mining companies have already applied STD, Newmont Minahasa Raya and Newmont Nusa Tenggara. At both mines, STD has caused serious effects and suffering to the local communities, said Chalid Muhammad, Coordinator of JATAM, the Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network. He added that tailings pipes at both mines have failed on several occasions and spilled their contents both on land and in the ocean.

Companies like US-based Newmont are not permitted to practice STD in their home countries, so “instead they cynically exploit the people and resources of countries in the Asia-Pacific region which have less rigorous environmental regulations”, said Shanna Langdon of Project Underground, a mining industry watchdog based in California.

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