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Mining Contamination Threatens Lives in Cotuí
Cotuí, 9/24/2014

Some 600 families living in six rural communities close to the Pueblo Viejo gold mines, owned by Barrick Gold, are living on the edge of despair surrounded by a cloud of dust, polluted rivers and a permanent stench. The residents of El Naranjo, La Piñita, Fátima, El Llagal, Los Cacaos and Las Lagunas, a hundred kilometers from Santo Domingo, and 18 from the local municipality, feel they have nowhere to turn to resolve their problem.

They have formed the Nuevo Renacer Committee to help those who have survived such illnesses tuberculosis, silicosis, lung cancer and skin diseases, headaches, stomach ailments and other sickness.

Members of the Committee include, among others, María de la Cruz, Leoncio Ramos, Ludovino Fernández (Lubito), Ignacio Guzmán, Juan Toribio Matos, Ramiro Valle Polanco, Francisco Martínez, Patricio Abreu, Eufemia Díaz, Pedro Guzmán, Marino Polanco and Pedro Núñez.

They say the calamity affecting them is due to cyanide and other chemical contaminangts being used by Barrick Gold to extract gold from the mine in Pueblo Viejo.

The pollution is so bad that it has caused the demise of the area’s cacao, pineapples, oranges, lemons and other agricultural products. It has also caused the death of hundreds of cows and poultry. Fish and crab have completely disappeared from the nearby rivers because of the cyanide being dumped into the Maguaca River, say committee members.

They explained that 85% of the area’s residents suffer from some kind of skin condition and that more than 60% have respiratory infections.

“Here people are living with a constant and permanent cough, throat infections and a scabies skin condition that does not ever go away,” said Lubito Fernández.

He added that recently several people have died from the effects of contamination, including Pedro Gómez Sánchez, Marcos Hernández, Andrés González Martínez, and Gregoria Yépez.

A baby of eight months weighing only four pounds was taken to Santo Domingo for treatment.

“Children are born here with deformities caused by the contamination that is killing them,” added Fernández.

María de la Cruz said that in the past people lived happily off what they earned from their livestock and what they harvested on their land along the Maguaca River, which today is considered a public danger.

She said that today no one can raise any animals because when it rains they find dead them all over the place.

Other peasants and farmers said that a short time ago the Valle family lost nearly a million pesos due to the death of a large number of their cows.

Félix Rodríguez explained that there have been recent losses of more than 400 birds, goats and other animals from the contamination.

Darío Cruz, a cattle owner in the area, left his farmland in the face of the disaster he suffered as a result of pollution from the Maguaca River.

In addition to the Maguaca Sánchez Ramírez province, there are other rivers such as the Yuna, the largest, the Camú River and the Chacuey, Payabo, Cevicos and Piedra Rivers.

Inhabitants of the area say that as of two years ago when Barrick Gold arrived, their lives as farmers changed and now they do not have anywhere safe to live because they can no longer farm their land nor have birds, animals and cattle.

Some time ago, the Ministry of Public Health conducted a survey in the area to assess the health damage of the area’s inhabitants and the environmental impact caused by the mining activities.

Dr. Roberto Berroa, Deputy Minister of Environmental Health, led the study, but so far the results are not officially known.

 

Pueblo Viejo Project

This project, located in Sánchez Ramírez province, is in a world-class mineral reserve with one of the largest untapped gold deposits in the world.

Rosario Dominicana excavated the site between 1975 to 1999, when it was abandoned because of a lack of resources and technology.

After 2001, the concession to mine for and extract gold was given to Placer Dome, which in 2006 sold its global assets to Barrick, which then sold a 40% stake to Goldcorp Incorporated, thus forming Barrick Gold Corporation, which then became Pueblo Viejo Dominicana Corporation.

According to the agreement signed with the Dominican government, Barrick Gold has permission to exploit the mines of Pueblo Viejo for a period of 25 years and to do so has made an initial investment of over $3,6 billion dollars.

Barrick Gold promised to hire local labor and to generate 3,500 jobs per year and create 1,000 management jobs over this 25-year period.

It also commited to conduct responsible mining, deal with the negative impact left behind by the Rosario Dominicana and to undertake an environmental management plan in accordance with international standards and in compliance with environmental regulations in the Dominican Republic.

The company also pledged to improve the water quality and land in the area where the mines are located.

Like so many mining companies, Barrick Gold uses cyanide in its extraction process. This is carried out through a closed-loop system in which there is no direct discharge into the environment.

 

Barrick Gold

Barick Gold Corporation is the largest mining company in the world, dedicated to gold mining. Founded by Peter Munk in 1983, its headquarters are in Toronto, Canada.

Currently, Barrick operates 23 mines in 15 countries including the US, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Chile, New Guinea, Zambia and the Dominican Republic.

Last year, they produced a little below 7 million ounces of gold and are expected to produce 6.50 million in 2014.  

Until 1993, they only operated in North America but starting this year have expanded to South America.

It remains to be proven whether the contamination is actually being caused by Barrick Gold.

 

DATA

Cacao planting

Tareas: 1,500

Production: 600 quintales.

Quality: Fouth category (Malo), half disposable

 

A NOTE

Pulmonary diseases

Contamination affecting the communities surrounding the Cotuí gold mines is so intense that it is estimated that more than 60% of the population has chronic lung diseases, skin ailments, headaches, stomach disorders and other health problems all of which has been attributed to dust in the atmosphere.

 

Quotes

Peasant leader Lubito Fernández

“Barrick is slowly killing 600 peasant families in this area.”

“This must be stopped whereever it is happening before it is too late.”

Source: By Ruddy Germán, Ruddy en Periódico El Nacional.

Topic(s):    Environmental pollution