“The safety and well-being of our neighbors, employees and contractors are always our first priority and this is irreplaceable with any material benefit. We again apologize to our neighbors for any concern or inconvenience this may have caused them,” said Ms. Meryem Tekol Pelenk, the Global Health, Safety and Environmental Director of MNG.
Ms. Meryem Tekol Pelenk, Global Health, Safety and Environmental Director of MNG Gold, has admitted to a team of journalists that the accident that happened last year at the Tailing Storage Facility (TSF) of the MNG Gold mine in Kokoyah, contaminated some surface water bodies of surrounding villages, Sayewheh Town in particular.
“On September 28, during the routine morning inspection, our teams observed a discharge from an under drain pipe. It was firstly thought that the discharge was coming from the drainage system after a very heavy overnight rain,” she stated.
According to her, they noticed in few hours the appearance of the water changed and it was realized that the discharge was coming from the TSF.
Ms. Pelenk: “We immediately informed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in line with our Crisis Management Protocol, which helped us a lot on managing this unintended accident with almost perfect coordination among our teams, governmental bodies, community members, and external experts ensuring minimum impact possible in a very limited time.”
She spoke to journalists in relation to an earlier story that had been published recently by the Front Page Africa newspaper in entitled, „Killing Them Slowly.‟ In the article, the locals from towns and villages accused the company for contaminating their water body with cyanide.
Further addressing journalists‟ concerns, the MNG Gold Safety and Environmental Director highlighted that they had also decided to halt all the operations until they were sure about the well-being of the surrounding communities and fix the TSF unit that had leaked.
She praised the Crisis Management Team and MNG for doing “a great job in a very limited time.”
Ms. Pelenk stated that as they fixed the problem with the storage facility and clearing the Sein Creek, they, with direction of the Crisis Management Team, including MNG, Sayewheh Town‟s people were constantly informed and when they got through with the TSF, the elders of the town were taken on a tour to see the facilities.
She also told journalists that announcements were also made on the local radio station RK FM 101.3 which was heard all over Bong County to stop activities along or in the Sein Creek.
According to her, throughout this time, MNG provided safe drinking water and food to residents of Sayewheh Town. She also informed that at least 36 community members who are known to have come in contact with the contaminated water to reach their farms, were transferred immediately to three different hospitals for medical care on the company‟s expense.
“We were happy to hear that nobody had come down with any serious ailment, for which thanks go to the joint effort and great cooperation among our teams, community members, governmental officials and other experts,” she stated. Medical Report Shows No Trace of Cyanide in Patients
Sarah Daniel, not her real name, is said to be one of the victims of the MNG spillage. She was one of those taken to hospital for treatment. She still complains of poor health conditions and blames MNG for abandoning her.
Sarah and others were taken to Phebe, JFK Medical Center and Jackson F. Doe Referral Hospital for treatment and to test for any trace of cyanide in their bodies. Sarah and some villagers hold the company responsible for their existing ailments.
However, contrary to Sarah‟s claims, her medical report states that she has Hepatitis B and this is not traceable to be caused by cyanide.
MNG Accused of Hiding Medical Report
The Locals of Sayewheh Town, claimed that the MNG company is hiding the medical reports of affected persons who came in contact with the water and were taken to the hospital.
In response to her accusation, Mr. Benedict Sayeh, the Government and Community Relations Manager of MNG strongly rejected these claims by emphasizing the right of privacy of the people, which limits them to share these reports with public.
“No one can discuss a medical report of a person with anybody or make it public because it is confidential. So we cannot give any of the patient‟s medical report to the village people without his/her consent. Should in case a person has AIDS, do you think he would allow us to disclose it to the public? If the patient requests for his or her medical report, he or she is welcomed to get it.”
Sayeh claimed that the lady, who had claimed that her liver ailment was as a result of the spillage, was given her medical records after she requested for it because she had told that she wanted to get a second opinion.
He also told reporters that owners of affected farmlands were paid compensation for their loss; adding: “Since 2014, MNG has paid over US$150,000 in crops compensation in accordance with the Ministry of Agriculture standards.”
He disclosed that in support to community development and public health, MNG operated throughout the 2014 Ebola outbreak and did not stop its operations to leave Liberia.
A Letter to EPA
After the MNG Community Relations Manager‟s clarification, Ms. Pelenk shared a copy of a letter from EPA to MNG, dated November 11, 2017.
EPA authorities indicated their observation of zero concentration of cyanide in the Sein creek. They also told the company to construct at least six hand pumps within the community. They also told the company management to inform community residents that they are now free to use all the water sources and resume their normal activities including farming, artisanal mining, etc.
Furthermore, in line with EPA‟s recommendations, MNG has done some improvement on their facilities, including drilling six additional boreholes to monitor the groundwater quality and daily surface water monitoring at 20 points and surface water quality at 12 sampling points, covering rivers and creeks, for which they have three more sampling points at the St. John River.
MNG‟s Safety and Environmental Director Pelenk stated that they are monitoring regularly in order to avoid a reoccurrence and or if there is any trace of cyanide.
MNG‟s Contribution to Economy
She highlighted that the MNG Gold is one of the largest contributors to the Liberian economy through its gold mines and exploration activities. The company hires 967 people at Kokoyah Gold mine. According to them, 790 of their staff are Liberians.
In 2017, the company reportedly paid US$7.16 million to the government as tax, whilst they spent U