Sunday, May 11, 2014
Temporarily, I will be off the Internet, to return about June 2. Followers of the novel 'South Sea Gold' can find a free download of the story by Googling 'Keith Jackson and Friends: PNG Attitude'. At the top of the home page, on the right, you will see a link 'Free book - South See Gold'. Clicking on that should let you pick up the story where you left off.
Thursday, May 1, 2014
Headline: THREE CHILDREN ILL FROM TOXIC MINE WASTE
Nerve damage usually permanent says medical expert
Tom's story gave the details of the pipeline break, the children's play in the resulting mud, the appearance of the "falling down disease" and his interview with Dr. Rao. A side-bar summarized the symptoms and permanent effects of konzo.
Jon Sinto followed it with an editorial on an inside page:
"Konzo is a well-recognized nutritional disease among East African farmers who live on a diet of the bitter variety of manioc. It is rare in Papua New Guinea, possibly because of its manner of preparation, or perhaps because newer "sweet manioc" varieties are commonly grown here, or perhaps because family gardens here provide a wider variety of food. It's appearance on Owego Island happened when the gold mine there discharged its cyanide-bearing waste into the sea, and when a break in that pipe-line was not sealed off from public access.
"The Owego gold and copper mine is not the only contributor to these children's illness, nor are the children the only victims of the mine's policy of throwing its waste into the sea. Following the example of several other mines in Papua New Guinea, the Owego mine, not yet even in full production, has damaged the local fishing industry and stifled the tourist business on other parts of the island and in the surrounding area in Milne Bay Province. It does not have to be this way. Other countries, with stricter laws, have largely done away with environmental damage from mining. But in the past, in our beautiful land, our government has turned a blind eye to massive mining pollution, fearing that foreign corporations will no longer come here to do their mining if costs of ore extraction increase. The government need not fear; the mining corporations will still come where the ore is. Wherever a million ounces of gold lie waiting in the ground, the corporations will come.
"But do our bureaucrats have other designs as well?"
"That newspaper team has done it again!" exploded Li Kao Hsai, flinging The Journal down on his desk. "Whatever happens, they manage to blame South Sea Gold!"
It was one more bad news item to explain to the Hong Kong office in the weekly conference call report that already spoke of new production delays. One of the exploratory drill holes had hit an underground water source, gushing a stream of steaming hot water from deep in the earth up into the mine's deepest level and halting work until the drill hole could be plugged. A company geologist recommended a special pump, able to handle the water's heat and acid content, and to expel the water out into the slurry pipeline.
Mr. Han in Hong Kong had not been happy. "Li, we pay you to deal with such matters, without adding to the operating costs. Now that you've already drawn the attention of the government's environmental people with these sick children, how do you think they'll react to the news that we intend to add heat and acid to your famous cyanide pipeline?"
"Other mines in PNG have similar problems, sir," Li said.
"Yes, but they deal with them quietly. You seem to have hired a damned publicity agency!"
Jeremy Blake spoke up, defending his job. "Sir, with respect, I suggest we turn the publicity to our advantage. The children's entire Port Moresby trip and their treatment has cost us less than what we spend in trying to change a single government policy, and it will gain us popular favor besides."
The CEO barked an interruption: "At this point, you'd better do something about the whole cyanide mess. Disposal in the ocean is getting more expensive with every news headline. Get me a cost estimate for that waste-paste process or whatever you call it, to see if we can stay out of the news spotlight for a couple of months. Have something to show me by next week!" He hung up.
Li looked at Blake in surprise. "That's quite a turn-around."
"I guess progress is coming to The People's Republic along with the rest of the world. How do we find out how to set up this transformation of slurry into solids?"
"Some back-water place in America called Idaho, I believe," said Li."We'd better get at it. I expect Hong Kong will be sending more engineers down here."
Jeremy visited Tom at The Journal's office that afternoon with a news release, but he wanted information as well. "Okay, Mr. Li and I now have Hong Kong's permission to investigate other choices of mine-waste disposal. The mining engineers will do the technical side, but how are Mr. Li and our staff going to understand what's going on? You've been researching this for the past month, Tom; I've been on the Internet all morning and I'm already lost. It will move faster if we work together. What do you think?"
"I agree. No hard feelings about my news articles?"
"Agreed," Jeremy said, "as long as you understand my position. I work for a mining company. South Sea Gold's goal is providing raw materials for China's development."
"I understand. And our goal is making sure that PNG's resources―your raw materials―are sold at a fair price, and that the money is not siphoned off into the wrong bank accounts, but is used to finance PNG's national needs."
"And those goals leave some room for argument about what is the most practical way of dealing," said Jeremy.
"And some of the deals are not under either my control or yours," said Tom, "but we do what we can. Do you know the other members of our team?"
"Only from their writing. I'd like to meet them."
Tom took him around to meet Jon, Sophia, and Matt.
"I've met your CEO several times up in Hong Kong," said Matt, as they shook hands. "I usually work up there with the Chronicle.
Jeremy gave a wry smile. "That explains a lot. He's known to be, let's say, not the easiest man to get along with. He's usually on our backs to cut costs, but these sick kids have convinced him that it'll be cheaper to get rid of the deep-sea waste disposal program. He wants a report by next week, and I can't even understand the language. What are these 'non-Newtonian fluids' the engineers keep talking about?"
Tom grinned in sympathy. "I didn't know either, when I started writing this mining series. Think of it this way―You tip a cup of any ordinary liquid and the liquid spills out. Now think of a tube of tooth paste. Tip the tube and nothing happens; the paste is too thick. You have to squeeze the tube to get it out. Same with a thick slurry, you need pressure to make it move. Mine tailings paste is like tooth paste, or better yet like wet concrete; the solids and the water don't separate even when not being stirred or transported."
"So why would you want to make it harder to move? It moves through a pipe just fine, the way we're doing it now."
"The problem is storage. When you pump it into the ocean or a river, it kills the fish, and pollutes the water. Pump it on to someone's land and you've got all that water in a pond or behind a dam. When the pond is full you've got to build another one. And if the dam breaks, you ruin a whole river system. Other people live on that land too. They don't want more tons of dirt dumped on them each day."
"So you're saying don't mine the gold?"
"No, I'm saying mine it responsibly. Leave the land and waterways as good as they were before the mine was there. After you extract the gold, silver, copper, from the slurry then extract most of the water too."
"Centrifuge it, filter it, or vacuum-distill it. That's an engineering problem. Basically, you're left with mud plus a much smaller amount of water that you can remove the pollutants from and then recycle.
"Your mining engineers turn the slurry mud and waste rock into a thick paste by mixing it with the right amount of cement to allow it to be pumped underground. The right mixture can be pumped along a kilometer or more of pipe, and then becomes solid within a few days. Solid enough to mine the next level underneath it, in safety from rock-falls, if it's done right."
Sophia had been listening to this with some skepticism. "I see a problem. Most of our mines in PNG are not underground. They're open pit."
"You can still put the paste-mix back in a mined-out section of the pit or on adjacent land. You can shape it with a temporary wall until it hardens. Pour the next batch on top of it. You can stack it, layer upon layer. It uses much less land, and doesn't need dams. There's no mud to flow down the river or to cover all the life on the ocean floor. Any toxic metals that you did not extract are sealed in the hardened paste. According to long-term testing over twenty years, that's where they stay."
"Are there any women mining engineers using this?" Sophia was still skeptical.
"I don't know, Sophia." Tom had learned to be patient with her obsession. She was, after all, senior to him in tenure. "I suppose I could check. Jeremy, does all that answer your questions?"
It points me in the right direction, Tom. Thanks."
Matt asked, "Are you prepared to find that your CEO in Hong Kong has changed his mind tomorrow?"
Jeremy paled. "Bite your tongue!"
"No, I've met your CEO in my work with The Chronicle over the past couple of years. My impression is he doesn't care about children, doesn't care about pollution, or Papua New Guinea's progress. He's only becoming aware of the legal swamp ahead if his company doesn't change direction, and he's choosing the least expensive route. Write your proposal carefully, with that in mind."