Worried residents in gold-mining Bukit Koman village are demanding that the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment act immediately on a memorandum which they submitted in June 2009.
RAUB: A random health survey conducted in May 2012 on 338 Bukit Koman residents in Raub, Pahang, which incidentally is the parliamentary constituency of MCA’s Dr Ng Yen Yen, has shown-up disturbing and alarming results.
Some 50% of the residents suffered from skin diseases and eye irritations while another 40% experienced incessant coughing spells.
Also noted was the fact that there were eight cases of cancer among the respondents and that 35% of those interviewed suffered from such complaints as giddiness and lethargy.
The cause, the residents believe, is a revived gold mine barely a few hundred metres from the Bukit Koman village.
Bukit Koman is a small village of 300 families. Most of the villagers are descendants of miners from Raub, the town just next to the village, once known as the ‘gold capital’ of then Malaya.
With the resurgence of gold price, the Raub Australian Gold Mining (RAGM) company began a multi-million dollar operation using a new method to extract gold from tailings left behind from decades of conventional mining.
Herein lies the problem.
In 2008, the Bukit Koman Action Committee Against the Use of Cyanide in Mining of Gold collected 10,000 signatures voicing their objections to the usage of cyanide in the mining facility.
They also mounted a legal challenge to stop the operations in their request for a judicial review of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
But their application was quashed last year.
Their many requests for a dialogue with the company and the government who had approved the mining facility have all fallen on deaf ears.
RAGM began its full operations using cyanide in February last year.
RAGM is a Malaysian company that is wholly owned by the Peninsular Gold Limited.
Peninsular Gold Ltd is listed in the London Stock Exchange and registered in Jersey, a semi-autonomous region dubiously known as a tax haven.
The company’s main shareholder is Andrew Kam whose father, Kam Mun Wah, is a veteran politician in MCA.
Its other shareholders are the Sultan of Pahang’s daughter, Puteri Seri Lela Manja and her ex-husband, Mohd Moiz.
RAGM had began a multi-million dollar operation using a new method known as ‘carbon-in-leach’ to extract gold from tailings left behind from decades of conventional mining.
This method has an 80% efficacy rate of extracting gold, a far more effective but expensive way compared to shaft mining. But it also carries more risk.
That translates to 1.5 tonnes a day.
Polluted water for Selangor?
What’s worrying the residents is that the facility is only 100 to 200 meters from their village and any spillage would be an environmental disaster.
Bukit Koman also sits in a water catchment area criss-crossed by many rivers that feed into the Klau Dam 13 km away.
In a couple of year’s time, this new dam will supply water to Selangor, the most populous state in Malaysia.
For two years now the committee has led an on-going campaign to stop the usage of cyanide in gold mining in their village.
But until now they’ve been unable to engage the authorities or RAGM.
“We, the residents living in Bukit Koman and Raub Pahang have been complaining of increasing incidences of skin diseases, eye irritation, coughing and general unease for the past three years after a nearby gold mine and gold extracting facility Raub Australian Gold Mining started operation in 2009.
“We also suffer the persistent and strong cyanide-like odour since the plant started operation in February 2009.
“Prior to this, no such odor has been detected,” they said in a press statement issued recently.
The committee suspects that the cyanide being used in RAGM facilities is not being properly handled and that their cyanide detoxification exercise is also not in place.
Their suspicions are based on repeated statements found in the Admission Document submitted to London Stock Exchange by Peninsular Gold Ltd that cyanide detoxification “may not be required for its operation in Malaysia particularly at the Bukit Koman site”.
‘Unreasonable’ risks to villagers
The group also said that the laboratory results of water samples collected by the Pahang Local Government, Environment and Health Committee had tested high for total cyanide concentration.
The test showed cyanide concentration at 0.03mg/litre which is well above the Recommended Permissible level of below 0.2ppm (Part Per Million) held by the U.S. Environment Protection Agency.
The committee had also engaged two internationally reputable environmental scientists, Dr. Mark Chernaik and Dr Glenn Miller who opined that “the operation of the proposed gold mine tailings processing facility would impose an unreasonable risk to the health and safety or persons residing in Bukit Koman”.
They also pointed out that the because of the lack of legitimate information “residents of Bukit Koman can reasonably apprehend that their groundwater and surface water supplies would be contaminated by the migration of toxic substances from effluent in the standing pond”.
Also affected is the air quality in and around Bukit Koman.
The residents are now demanding that their memorandum which was submitted to the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment on 29 June 2009 be implemented immediately.
Among the demands are that the government take immediate action to address both the short and long term impact of the ongoing mining activities and an immediate stop-work order to be issued to RAGM.