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Social services

News

Kyrgz mine spill lessons

15 December 1998

A serious cyanide spill at an IFC- and MIGA-backed mine this May raises questions about the Bank Group environmental procedures for mines. NGOs stress the need for:

  1. independent environmental audits of major mine operations; open access to all information about environmental or human health safety and risks;
  2. open communications before, during, and after an environmental accident;
  3. community monitoring boards at major mine operations.

They have also pushed for changes in the Bank Group’s policies and guidelines relating to mining, especially in emergency response planning, environmental impacts and practices, public access to information, “bad actor” provisions, and environmental performance bonds.

The Barskaun mine in Kyrgztan is operated by a subsidiary of Cameco, a Canadian corporation. The company has produced a report about the chemical spill, which occurred as lorries were driving to the plant, which is next to a huge freshwater lake which supplies water to neighbouring countries. One report by Russian officials suggests that a local resident died from the pollution, although this is contested by the company. It is agreed, however, that many others suffered severe health effects.

The company did not quickly notify residents downstream, and only paid flat rate compensation to people in the area ($50 to adults, $25 to children), yet it denied mismanagement of the delivery process or spill response. The company has still not made its environmental impact assessment publicly available, nor its spill response plan. There are continuing concerns about mine tailings disposal.

In a recent detailed letter NGOs called for an independent environmental audit of the mine and its operating plans.

In October Natalia Ablova, Bureau on Human Rights, and Kalia Moldogazieva of the Human Development Center “Tree of Life” travelled to Washington to make these points directly to IFC and MIGA staff and Bank Executive Directors. They argued that the specific impacts of the project serious, and that the incident has poisoned public opinion against foreign companies and aid agencies at a critical time in their young democracy.

Contact: Doug Norlen, Pacific Environmental Resources Center, c/o CIEL, 1367 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, DC 10036, em: dnorlen@igc.org.