By Dr Sioni Sialis, PNG Doctors Internet Group.
As some of you may have heard, I had the opportunity of working at the Tolukuma Gold Mine a few years ago, and I worked for a year.
Tolukuma is run by a South African company called DRD; I have forgotten now but I think it is called Durban Durepoort Deep Group Ltd. It has a 20% stake in the Porgera mine and also a mine in Fiji.
Tolukuma is an underground mine like Porgera but not of the same standard. Standard of safe practice is very poor. I still wonder how they still work in our country, but I do know that they have alot of things tired up, and for alot of us who were there, it was a form of employment.
Actually, I couldn’t wait to leave once I had the opportunity. For an underground mine of that sort and the mining that is involved, it is risky; gold is held in quartz rock and the blasting can resulst in the crystals of the quartz being inhaled. Which can lead to Silicosis which is a permanent damage to your lungs. Masks that are worn underground are all black from soot when you do come back out of the underground mine. The ventilation is terrible.
After sometime the management sent the underground workers to Pacific International Hospital for an assessment. A large majority of them had some form of mild/moderate restrictive changes and reduced hearing loss from the audiometry. For alot of the workers, it is form of employment and livelihood for themselves and their families. Where else would you find a job? If you did find one then leave. If not then hang on.
Despite numerous attempts to obtain spirometers, have CXR’s and audiometry for baseline tests – it fell on deaf ears.
That was my feeling about the company and how it handled it’s responsibilities and hence it is my opinion.
When I was there I heard of a visit by the senior chemist and the community affairs down the river and out in Kairuku area, mentioning that the samples taken were within normal limits.
I also know of a report by Oxfam outlining the atrocities depicted from dying trees along the river bed and health problems of the local people.
The operations in Tolukuma are in the mountains of Goilala and hence there is no road connection. Everything is flown in by chopper. Hence, the cost to get one ounce of gold is quite high. Hence, money and spending is very tight to ensure a profit. Their operations then in South Africa were going to the dogs and Tolukuma was preventing that ship from sinking because of the high grade of gold found. Also, there is not set reserves of gold for the mine. Their operation is basically mine and explore at the same time.
I read somewhere that the General Manager can be held liable under the Common law.
With all that, it is most likely that Dr. Kotapu is right. I just wonder how high up the corruption goes in terms of the Department concerned with mining and Environment. I am sure they do get reports on a regular basis. So someone is covering up.
Sorry guys, that was my unpleasant experience, and I am glad that I have got out of there. There must be a way that they pay, and I hope they do. I didn’t think this could happen in PNG.