Last year around November, management of Ahafo mine of Newmont Ghana organised a facility tour of the company’s premises for a group of journalists from Brong Ahafo and Ashanti regions in the wake of media allegation that recent fish deaths in the company’s water storage facility was due to cyanide spillage.
The journalists were from radio, print and television stations who during the tour captured whatever mattered for coverage to inform the general public about the real situation.
Before the tour began each of the journalists was provided with a copy of WSF related special monitoring map whilst officials of the company briefed them on the incident of dead fishes.
The company has dismissed the allegation in some media that the recent fish deaths that occurred in its water storage facility were due to cyanide pollution.
The company said investigations conducted on samples of the fishes and water from the facility confirmed there was no cyanide. The company also dispelled earlier news reports that the incident occurred in the River Subri saying it happened in the Water Storage Facility (WSF), which is a constructed dam downstream of the Subri River.
Paul Sowley, General Manager, Environment and Social Responsibility of the Ahafo mine made this known at the briefing session as part of the facility tour.
The tour was to enable the media personnel to have a better appreciation of the Water Storage Facility and also to explain the facts about the incident.
The journalists were also provided with helmets and boots for protection as they were taken round the Water Storage Facility, the Tailings Storage Facility (TWF) and were also exposed to the cyanide management process and infrastructure of the Ahafo Mine.
Mr. Sowley explained during the briefing the WSF location is upstream of the tailings facility and was therefore not probable for any substance from its tailings facility to flow into the WSF.
As the journalists were taken round the WSF and the TWF it became abundantly clear that there was no way cyanide, an odorless chemical, could spill into any water body in the area.
“More so, the water from the tailings facility is recycled for re-use in our plant and therefore cyanide cannot flow from there into the WSF,” the general manager said.
He told the media personnel the WSF was constructed in 2006 and is used to supplement fresh water dam for the Ahafo Mine’s operations and is deliberately stocked with tilapia and catfish to control mosquito larvae.
The dam is a restricted area and hamlets within the surrounding area the journalists learnt had been educated against using the water from the facility for their domestic activities and consumption.
Mr Sowley announced boreholes, which the journalists witnessed some of the inhabitants drawing water from, had been provided in the communities and a community patrol team had been trained and engaged to educate potential trespassers from fishing or swimming in the dam.
Explaining the cause of the fish deaths, he said monitoring of the facility had shown that there were low levels or dissolved oxygen, which was due to factors such as over population of the fish in the facility and harmattan daily temperature variation of 16-36 degrees.
In a telephone interview during the briefing, Dr. Ruby Asmah, a research scientist with the Water Resource Institute confirmed this cause of fish deaths and added the Institute conducted an ecological study of the facility in 2010 and June and July 2011.
She explained Newmont requested the study to be carried out following similar incidents in the past and was suggested to the company to depopulate the fish community in the facility and also construct an outlet to allow controlled regular water discharge to improve the water quality.
Mr Sowley said the company had already notified the regulators about plans to depopulate the facility of the fish as well as the controlled release of the water through a new spillway constructed by the company.
Agbeko Azumah, Communications Manager of Newmont Ahafo mine, refuted an allegation that some officials of Newmont heckled and damaged the camera of a member of Ghana Journalists on Mining, Oil and Gas who attempted to film the dead fishes.
He said the allegations were untrue and advised the media to always contact the company for clarification on issues concerning the mine.
Newmont Gold Ghana Limited has contracted a vehicle on standby in the area of the WSF for any emergency in the communities and during the tour school children and other residents were seen boarding the vehicle.
Sign boards with emergency telephone numbers that enable residents to call for help during crises were seen along communities around the facility.
By Dennis Peprah