UN report urges dewatering of Solomons tailings dam
The United Nations and the World Health Organization are calling for the immediate de-watering of a tailings dam at the closed Gold Ridge Mine in Solomon Islands, which is dangerously close to spilling over.
The United Nations and the World Health Organisation are calling for the immediate de-watering of a tailing's dam at the closed Gold Ridge Mine in Solomon Islands, which is dangerously close to spilling over.
A researcher from the Australian National University, Matthew Allen, visited the dam in January and has recently cited UN and WHO reports from a survey conducted in May last year.
He told Koroi Hawkins they call for immediate action.
DR MATTHEW ALLEN: Well I visited the tailing's dam in late January and I was told that due to heavy rains over the preceding three days that the water level in the tailing's dam had increased by 10 centimetres, and indeed that there was less than a metre to go before the spillway will be breached. Now I understand that there are some structural issues with the spill way, a breach of the spillway would raise the specter of a breach of the dam wall itself. Which would be according to some studies that I am aware of by the UN and the WHOit would potentially be an environmental catastrophe for the communities, the many thousands of people in fact who live downstream from the tailing's dam.
KOROI HAWKINS: Did the report say anything about whether it was safe to pump the water out in its current state without being treated?
MA: Well as far as I am aware the reports recommend that immediate emergency de-watering takes place and that as long as you know that certain procedures are followed the risks to downstream communities would be negligible, and they would certainly be far outweighed of the potential environmental catastrophe that would happen if the dam wall itself was to be breached because a breach of the dam wall would mean that all of the sediments in the dam and it is really the sediments that contain, you know the highest concentrations of dangerous heavy metals. So a breach of the facility entirely would be a serious environmental issue.
KH: And how big is this dam? Just give us an indication of the size and the amount of water that we are talking about.
MA: Look I am certainly not a technical specialist in this area I am a social scientist but what I can say is that de-watering isn't something that would happen quickly because the water has to be released gradually over many, many days over hundreds of days in fact. So given that it's really an ongoing issue and as far as I am aware the reports done by the UN and done by the WHO make the point that you know emergency de-watering is a first stage, but that has to be followed by you know, the release of treated water once the treatment plant is repaired. But it does highlight the point that this is an ongoing issue it has been around for years and it will continue to be an issue for years to come.
KOROI HAWKINS: Did you speak to any of the people who live downstream who are potentially at risk if this tailing's dam bursts?
MA: Yes I did and people are understandably extremely concerned about that very thing about the potential of a breach of the dam wall, that said all three of the associations that represent the gold ridge land owners both at the mine site itself and downstream are unanimous in their view that the water needs to be treated before it is discharged into the Tinahulu river and indeed that is also the view of the Solomon Islands government and indeed it is a statutory requirement. So essentially it seems to me that there has been, you know there is a stand off between you know the key stakeholders. I guess the company on the one hand and the Solomon Islands Government and the associations that represent land owners on the other.
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