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Indonesian Study Finds Mining Firm Didn't Pollute Bay

By Alan Sipress
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 19, 2004; Page A19

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Oct. 19 -- A study conducted by Indonesia's Environment Ministry has determined that Denver-based Newmont Mining Corp. did not pollute the waters near its gold mine in North Sulawesi province despite complaints from villagers that they had been sickened by waste dumped in the bay near where they live.

The findings, released Monday, were in line with a separate study by the World Health Organization, but were at odds with the conclusions of an Indonesian police investigation that Newmont had contaminated Buyat Bay. Police asked prosecutors this month to bring criminal charges against six Newmont executives, including two Americans.

The six executives, including Richard B. Ness, director of the local subsidiary, Newmont Minahasa Raya, face up to 10 years in prison. Five of the men remain in police custody.

"This report represents complete vindication for Newmont and confirms that Newmont has told the truth, has mined responsibly and has properly managed the environment of Buyat Bay," Tom Enos, the company's vice president for international operations, said in a statement. "We strongly believe the information contained in the report, verified by six government and private accredited laboratories, should put to rest the controversy regarding Buyat Bay."

One of Newmont's attorneys, Luhut Pangaribuan, said he hoped the police would soon release the five detained company officials.

The Environment Ministry study, prepared by experts from private institutions and other government departments, reported that water quality in Buyat Bay meets all Indonesian environmental standards, including limits for arsenic, mercury and other metals. The water quality was found to be comparable with that elsewhere off the coast of the province. The analysis also found that mercury levels met the standards recommended by the World Health Organization, and that levels of inorganic arsenic in fish from the bay were within limits used by Australia and New Zealand.

Environment Minister Nabiel Makarim said government officials decided to conduct the study two months ago because of conflicting reports about whether Newmont had contaminated the bay. He declined to address the police allegations, but said, "You can conclude if there's no pollution, no one is polluting."

The government findings are consistent with a study completed last month for the World Health Organization, which also exonerated Newmont, the world's largest gold mining company.

A police spokesman said earlier that their investigation was based on independent sampling, analysis and witnesses. But the spokesman said police were not familiar with specifics of the WHO study and had no comment on the latest report from the Environment Ministry.

Sandra Rotty, a physician at a health clinic at Buyat Bay who said she had examined all villagers over a five-year period, said their health problems were caused by poverty, poor sanitation and ignorance about hygiene.

"This pattern of symptoms of disease is common throughout coastal communities, not only Buyat Beach," she said.


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