Kokoyah, Bong County - They gathered this last Saturday morning with no idea the trouble they were about to face.
As they slept, a chemical had spilled from the local MNG Gold mining site into their stream. On Saturday morning they traveled the usual route to their farms.
By Monday they had running stomach, rashes on the body, body pain, vomiting and weakness. More than thirty had been admitted to Phebe Hospital and are under medical observation.
Mary Dajuah, 42, told this reporter that said she didn’t know about the chemical spill but remembers feeling pain in her eyes moments after she walked in the water to get to her farm.
“I thank God none of the children went with me early that morning because they usually take bath and sometimes use the water to brush their mouth while in enroute to the farm. That would had been a very big problem for us,” said Uriah Daryou, a father two.
Yamah Flomo, a mother of four said, she walked in the water to get to her farm Saturday morning and she has since been felling heat and weakness in her body.
“Since they brought us, we been taking treatment at the hospital here and we hope to get well soon so we can go back and continuing with our farming activities.”
Residents of Sayeweh Town, many of whom are farmers, don’t only walk in the stream to get to their farms in the morning but they also rely on it for fishing, bathing, and other livelihoods.
Saturday morning they did the usual - walked in the water, used it for bathing. It was only later that they found out that the entire stream was polluted will chemical during the night as the result of the spillage.
Friday night, September 29, an unknown chemical spilled from one of the MNG- Gold’s mining sites in here. MNG –Gold is a Turkish Mining company extracting gold in several parts of Kokoyah District in Bong County. The spill has now paralyzed farming activities in the town.
People here are also worried what the chemicals have done to their health.
“Some of these chemicals have long-term health implications,” said Mr. Samuel Kiamue.
“We hope the government is thoroughly investigating this situation to ensure our safety in that community.”
The affected people are also anxious to move back to their farms. But they want the government to carryout routine monitoring of various mining areas in the country to ensure compliance, especially the usage of chemical and protection of the environment among various companies.
A spokesman for MNG-Gold said there was not yet any evidence the patients had suffered any health problems as a result of the spill.
Lloyd Ngwayah said reporter the spills were caused by a heavy downpour of rain. A reservoir facility containing a diluted chemical was flooded and later spilled over into the creek in Sayeweh-ta.
“The spillage is recycled water used to process gold ore not direct chemicals,” said Ngwayah in an email. MNG - Gold initially took the affected residents to a nearby clinic in the district and later forwarded them to the Phebe Hospital for further medical examination.
“People who walked through the stream… and fear contamination were taken to Phebe Hospital for medical examination as a verification/precautionary measure.
Initial examinations did not indicate any chemical related illnesses and those taken to the hospital by the company were treated and discharged and brought back to their families. However, we are awaiting full medical and environmental reports from the hospital and the EPA to establish any health and environmental related impact.”
“As a precautionary measure, the company also asked people to avoid contact with the stream pending the EPA Report and is providing feeding and safe drinking water to the nearby town (Sayewheh Town) where the stream is located”.
According to Ngwayah, the damage to the wall storing the recycled processing chemical water has been repaired.
“MNG has supplied the town with 44 bags of rice and other food items, including water tanks with safe drinking water,” he said.
MNG had constructed three hand pumps in Sayewheh Town before the spill but the residents have been advised not to drink from them until the government through the Environmental Protection Agency and the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy can conclude an investigation into the spillage.
Manager of the Department of Compliance and Enforcement at the Liberia Environmental Protection Agency, Jerry T. Toe, confirmed that a team from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy on Saturday visited the affected town and collected samples from the contaminated stream and other parts of the town and took them with them to Monrovia.
Mr. Toe said the team submitted findings to the government and initial reports have been distributed among various responsible ministries and agencies for further intervention.
Mr. Toe did not disclose the initial findings in the report but said another team from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will visit the affected area (Sayewheh Town) on Thursday, October 5.
This is the second report of a chemical spill in Kokoyah Statutory District since MNG Gold commenced operations in the district.
In 2016 a truck carrying a container containing Carbon hydroxide to MNG camp in Kokoyah broke down on a hill along the road causing a spill from the container into a stream in a nearby village.
The situation led to villagers in the affected areas to abandon their farming activities to sit in the village for several days for fear of coming in contact with the chemical.
A team comprising members from the company and the Environment Protection Agency took several days to spray the affected areas as part of efforts to restore the confidence of the residents.
Two communities were claiming compensation at the time and wanted MNG to clean up their land.
As findings in the latest spill in Sayewheh Town are expected, some officials who spoke to this reporter in Kokoyah district said, the spill into the stream is putting at risk birds, fish and other wildlife in the area and are calling on the government to fast track the investigations and put in place stringent measures that would compel the company to prevent the reoccurrence of the chemical spillage.
Report by Philip T. Singbah
This story was produced in collaboration with New Narratives and the Thomson Reuters Foundation with funding from German Development Cooperation. The funder had no say in its content