Thursday, 23 March, 2000Cyanide seeps into PNG rivers
Deadly sodium cyanide has seeped into a river in Papua New Guinea after falling accidentally from a helicopter.
Dome Resources, the Australian mining company involved in the incident, said between 100 and 150 kilos of cyanide had dissolved after rains washed it into the river.
The company said it had recovered about 70% of the one-tonne cyanide pellet load from the dense jungle about 85 kilometres north of the capital, Port Moresby.
There are no reports of casualties, but the country's National Disaster and Emergency Service has issued emergency health warnings to villagers in the affected area, urging them not to drink the river water.
Authorities are preparing to investigate how a crate of the deadly chemical fell from a helicopter into the jungle while being transported to the Tolukuma gold mine.
According to the US National Academy of Sciences, exposure to between 50 and 150 milligrams of cyanide can cause immediate death.
And Professor Kirpal Singh of the University of Papua New Guinea voiced concerns that native tribes in the region could suffer.
"People using this water are likely to die - they cannot survive," he said.
However, Dome Resources played down those fears, with managing director Michael Silver saying that the rivers would dilute the cyanide, so preventing any threat to villagers downstream or to wildlife.
The company's decontamination team has collected all visible cyanide pellets and put them into sealed containers, which are being transported to the mine.
"Any danger from cyanide causes us great concern where it's not controlled," Silver said. "Hopefully, there'll be absolutely no danger to any of the local population."
The incident is a further blow to the environmental reputation of Australian mining companies.
A cyanide spill recently poisoned rivers in Hungary and Romania following an accident in a Romanian mine half-owned by another Australian company.