While 15,000 people were gathering in Raub to protest against the use of cyanide in gold mining by miner Raub Australian Gold Mining (RAGM) yesterday, the company was having a public relations exercise by bringing members of certain mainstream media to visit the mining site.

The company claimed that the various diseases suffered by Bukit Koman residents were not caused by cyanide but pesticides or fertiliser used in their farming activities.

English daily New Straits Times quoted RAGM site supervisor Chai Kwe Yew as saying that it was only a minority group in the village who had accused the gold extracting facility of polluting the environment and endangering human lives.

Chai also said he was sad that the inaccurate information supplied by the villagers had prompted a response from environmental groups.

Villagers of Bukit Koman, where the mine is located, claimed that nearly 80 percent of the residents in surrounding areas were suffering health problems, which is believed to be related to the use of cyanide by RAGM. However, the Health Ministry says it cannot confirm this.

Yesterday’s rally at Raub was the culmination of five years of protest against the use of cyanide in the gold mine.

However, RAGM safety, health and environmental manager I Gayathri told New Strait Times that it was impossible for the plant to release such hazardous chemicals as the company had adopted stringent safety measures, with the Department of Environment (DOE) making monthly visits to the 120ha gold mine since it opened in February 2009.

“There are two gold mines in Sungai Koyan and Kuala Lipis but the residents there have never complained of any health problems,” she said.

Pond is home to thousands of fish

To back her claim, Gayathri added that a huge pond near the gold is also home to thousands of healthy fish including giant arapaimas.

Berita Harian, a Malay newspaper belonged to the same group which owns New Straits Times, also published a similar report.

It quoted Gayathri as denying the allegation that the gold mine has polluted the river flowing through Bukit Koman.

She explained that the Bukit Koman is located at the upstream while the gold mine is at the downstream, hence it is illogical to make the allegation.

According to her, DOE officers take water sample from the river and underground water sources at the mining site for inspection every month.

RAGM has also appointed external consultant to conduct quality studies to ensure its operation meets the standard set by DOE, said Gayathri.

She added that the gold mine has been operating since 1920s and it is one of the earliest gold mines in the country.

Both dailies published photos showing Gayathri and a man feeding fishes at a nearby river in Bukit Koman and a pond located in the gold mine respectively.

However, both reports did not address villagers’ demands including the request for RAGM to publish a contingency plan for the villagers in case of emergencies, such as accidents to the lorries carrying cyanide or leakage of hazardous chemicals.