Liberia: Cyanide Polluted Towns In Bong County Sue MNG Gold For US$285 Million In Damages


Monrovia – Several communities affected by a 2017 cyanide spillage in Bong County have filed a US$285 million action of damage for wrong against a major mining company in Liberia at the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court in Gbarnga City.

Report By Alpha Daffae Senkpeni / [email protected]

Lawyers representing Saywheh Town and its surrounding villages filed the suit on October 8, preying the court to bring Erkan Akogol, General Manger, Serhan Urmurham, Chief Executive Officer and all deputy managers and supervisors of MNG Gold Liberia before it during the November Term of Court.

“You are further directed to issue a Writ of Summons and place same in the hands of the Sheriff of this Honorable Court commanding him to summon the above name Defendants to appear in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court sitting in Bong County, with its formal appearance or answer on or before the 13th day of October, A.D 2018 instant therefore at 10 A.M.,” declares the writ to the court sheriff filed by the Woah and Associates Law Firm on behalf of the affected communities.

“The Plaintiffs in the above entitled [writ] cause of action demand from the Defendant a sum not less than US$285,000,000 but in the discretion of the trail jury as general damages (compensatory and punitive) and resettlement for the Plaintiffs.”

A copy of the writ, which is in the possession of FrontPageAfrica, was accompanied with loads of documentary evidence filed to the Circuit Court in the central Liberian city.

The writ carries a 33-count complaint against the Turkish gold mining firm, including details about the aftermath of the pollution and how it is affecting the communities including the major water source, fauna and flora and locals’ livelihood.

The suit also recounts how the malfunctioning of the company’s tailing storage facility created the catastrophe for the local people.

The affected communities, which have a population of over 1,900 residents who are mostly peasant farmers, depend on their immediate environment where they plant rice, cassava and other food crops. They also rely on Sein Creek as the main source of water, which has been contaminated by the cyanide spillage.

The writ also catalogued the trend of events following the over flowing of the MNG’s tailing storage on September 26 and 27, 2017, accusing the company of neglecting to alert the community about the danger of the chemical spillage.

“That the overflow and rapture of the TSF dam was with the knowledge of MNG Gold which refused and neglected to take any action to avoid the catastrophe,” states the writ, adding that over 3 million gallons of diverse chemicals containing cyanide, zinc, arsenic and other heavy metals were leaked into the major river of the community.

The communities are also contending that the discharged of the chemical in their environment is a violation of Liberia’s Public Health law and that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) permit granted to the company in 2015.

At the same time, they also expressed concern that unborn children of the people affected by the pollution are at high risk of birth and development problems.

MNG Mining Limited took over from the American-Liberian Mining Company (AmLib) in 2013. The company than began mining gold in August 28, 2015 after acquiring a permit from the EPA.

Under the Mineral Development Agreement signed between AmLib and the government of Liberia in 2005, the company is required to ensure that citizens’ life is protected from chemicals and care for citizens in case of health problems arising from exposure to chemicals.

On September 27, 2017 the tailing storage facility (TSF) malfunctioned thereby spilling uncontrollable amount of chemical in the environment. After the incident, the EPA later alarmed that the company did not follow best practices aimed at averting environmental pollution.

However, the EPA refuted reports that the pollution had resulted to illness of several people, a statement the company than propagated to squash claims from the affected communities.

Urias Goll, EPA Deputy Director at the time, said reports from three medical facilities including Phebe, JFK Medical Hospital and MNG Gold run clinic in Kokoya showed that there is no direct correlation of cyanide to the illnesses reported by the people.

Residents Suffering Impact

An FPA reporter toured the affected community in mid-July 2018 and found that many residents were still complaining about the aftermath of the pollution.

“All of us who took bath at that moment experienced similar symptom before the company through its Public Relations Officer Lloyd Ngaway advised us not to take bath in the water again,” said 38-year-old Beatrice Tarr, who said she began experiencing skin itching after bathing with water from the polluted creek.

County officials had said that 30 people became ill and some of the victims complained about vomiting and bloody urine, stool or pupu.

Marie Wamah, 30, who was treated at the Phebe Hospital due to bleeding, said, “This thing has been one year now and no improvement.” Fulton Boe and Elijah Weagar said their eyes started itching after they bathed in the creek.

They went to John F. Kennedy Hospital in Monrovia, but they continue to experience the same problem.

“My eyes itch a lot and at times I can’t see well, most especially when the sun is hot,” Boe said.

Report Finds MNG Liable

A report by the National Bureau of Concession in June this year showed that three million gallons of diverse toxic chemicals were released in the community by MNG and will remain in the environment for decades to come.  

It was the findings from an extensive environmental investigation sanctioned by the Liberia National Police and implemented by a Ghanaian laboratory service company (SGS) to discover the gravity of the toxic spill. During the investigation, locals of the Kokoya Community including the Chief and Chairman narrated the impact of the toxic spill on their community.

The report also accused the company of failing to make interventions during the chemical spill over, leaving numerous children and women in unattended corridors of the basic medical/nursing facilities without medical treatment.

States the report: “At the post-spill chronology of events, MNG Management were aware there were dozens of people from the spillage area seeking medical treatment and took hours to put in place any treatment which could or should have been rushed in at the time of the spillage occurrence and its on-going effects. This wanton, reckless and inconsiderate dispossession of the emergency medical needs of the community by MNG Management is another palpable finding supplementing those gathered and assessed in the SGS Report.”

Lawyers representing the communities have since been pushing for a legal redress, opting for damages for the affected communities. But when they earlier sought the investigation reports from the EPA and other relevant documentary evidence from government authorities to support their legal action against the company, they were denied with the EPA arguing that the report was a privilege document and could not be given to the community. This forced the law firm to invoke the Freedom of Information Act, requesting the EPA to make available the environmental assessment report. The Independent Information Commission than mandated the agency to provide the report to the communities legal representative.