RAUB (Oct 17, 2010): FOR two years, residents of Bukit Koman have been expressing their concern on the use of cyanide in the operations of Raub Australian Gold Mining, located under a kilometre away.
The residents – who have held numerous protests, despite being obscure and restricted to the small coterie of villagers – were labelled opportunistic, and unreasonable for their concerns over their health and the environment.
Their problem was thrust into the national spotlight when up to 85 of them travelled by two hired buses to Hulu Selangor to confront their MP, Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen who was campaigning in the by-election, in full glare of television cameras and flashing bulbs.
The result of the confrontation with Ng was a 20-minute commotion which she pinned on DAP’s Tras assemblyman Chong Siew Onn as attempting to "cause trouble" for political reasons.
In June last year, Ng was quoted as saying she remained mum on the matter because when "people refuse to listen to scientific facts, one cannot talk reason."
In a recent attempt to contact Ng for a response, all she said, according to a staff, was: "I will respond when the time is right."
Ng had in fact met residents and the Bukit Koman Anti-Cyanide Committee (BKACC) and brought a specialist to see them. This meeting took place in 2006, a year before the mine commenced operations using cyanide – a vital chemical for extracting gold from soil. It is a method that has been used for more than a century.
The residents beg to differ as they claim they have been suffering health and environmental impacts since the mine started operations in 2007.
BKACC’s concerns have sparked off a case now in the Court of Appeal. Residents, aided by Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) are applying for leave for judicial review of the Department of Environment’s (DOE) decision not to order a fresh Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
The mine is operating on an EIA done in 1996 – almost 11 years before the commencement of mining using the carbon-in-leach (CIL) technology.
While waiting the outcome of their legal battle, Bukit Koman residents continue to suffer eye irritation, breathing difficulty and skin conditions that are expensive to treat.
A 54-year-old housewife claims she has spent more than RM20,000 on the lingering skin condition for the past two years. The rash is spread in large blotches on her face, neck and arms.
"I’ve lived here for 31-years. There was nothing at first (referring to her skin condition) and then when the mine started … Gone lah (The rash started appearing)!
"Now I have to travel to KL to see a specialist and sit in an air-conditioned room for most of the day," Chan Ah Lan said.
BKACC president Wong Kin Hoong said the committee had exhausted all the proper channels when trying to obtain data and information for the village of about 3,000 people.
"We tried approaching the DOE, the Department of Lands and Mines, the Department of Health, our state exco for health and environment, the mentri besar who took over the Village Head position (a position traditionally held by the MCA state liaison chairman) but we have received no help.
"We met with the MB and the Exco but we didn’t get to express our concerns at that meeting because we felt we were ambushed by the presence of RAGM people," Wong lamented.
RAGM – a subsidiary of Peninsular Gold – maintains that its operations at the CIL plant was indeed safe.
Peninsular Gold chairman and chief executive Datuk Seri Andrew Kam opened the mine’s doors to theSun to have a look at its operations.
"We’re very open and transparent and we have nothing to hide … If they have a health problem and they have a legitimate reason to believe it is related to the mine they should show me. I will look into it," he said.
The use of cyanide is carefully carried out and monitored and if there is a change in operations, RAGM is required to submit an Environment Management Plan to the DOE.
RAGM technical chief operation officer Laurie Mann, during a tour of the mine, explained that the dug out soil is mixed with water, sodium cyanide, liquid oxygen, carbon, hydrogen peroxide, lime, unslaked lime and hydrochloric acid.
"The cyanide solution and gold are separated and the remaining cyanide and mud slush is restored to a safe level, and then put into the tailing pond.
"The remaining cyanide is in such a small dose that is dissipates."While cyanide can be dangerous, we spend a lot of time and money to ensure the process is completely safe," Mann added. -- theSun