12 Nov 2013

Solomons environment minister has no plans to drink 'safe' mine water

5:35 pm on 12 November 2013

Solomon Islands' environment minister says he will not drink the water released from the Gold Ridge Mine's tailings dam - despite his ministry declaring it safe for consumption by downstream communities.

Bradley Tovosia recently opened the new tailings storage facility at Gold Ridge, which releases treated water into the Tinahula River in central Guadalcanal.

The opening of the facility follows ongoing accusations from communities downstream of the tailings dam that the company is poisoning the river.

But Mr Tovosia says as far as the ministry is concerned, the water is safe to drink. Annell Husband spoke to him.

BRADLEY TOVOSIA: From our point of view as the Ministry of Environment, we are convinced that the water is safe drinking water.

ANNELL HUSBAND: Have you drunk it yourself?

BT: Sorry?

AH: Have you drunk it yourself?

BT: No. I did not, no.

AH: Do you know if the local communities are drinking it and they're OK?

BT: Uh, well... I'm not sure. After I did the launch I left on an overseas trip. But from my ministry I haven't heard anything so I'm assuming that things are OK.

AH: So the water quality is being monitored, isn't it? Isn't there testing taking place every day?

BT: Yes, that's our obligation as a Ministry of Environment. We do the best thing every day to ensure that water is safe. And I think the people that consume it are happy with the ministry, currently what we're doing.

AH: OK. So that testing is taking place every day, is it?

BT: It's supposed to be taking place every day, yes.

AH: And how will you know if it actually is? Do you have any oversight over that or is that someone well below you?

BT: No, that's someone well, well, well below me, but before that when we had an issue with a company some months ago we had the locals who actually did an investigation and they have come with a very satisfied report. The company was really unhappy about it so they brought in an independent group who came in to do the same investigation, and they confirmed our report. So I'm sure our locals are doing work here comfortably.

AH: So as far as you're concerned, the water is safe to drink and you haven't drunk it yourself, but presumably you would?

BT: No, no. I'm not intending to drink the water. I think, while it's safe, I'm not going to drink it. I don't want to take the risk of drinking the water that is used by chemicals now.

AH: Oh, I see. So if you wouldn't be prepared to drink it, how would you expect the people who actually live downstream of the tailings dam to drink it?

BT: Well, of course it can be OK. That doesn't mean it isn't safe for the people. But I'm not going to drink it myself. I don't think it's a good thing for me to do.