Drinking water from boreholes around the proposed site of Kanyika nobium mine in Mzimba south is polluted with a high concentration of uranium, thereby posing a risk of kidney effects among people in case of continued exposure to such water—a baseline environmental monitoring report says.
Investors Globe Metals and Mining Africa (Pty) Limited (GMMA), who are proposing to develop a nobium mining project in the area, commissioned the survey which was executed by Synergistics Environmental Services (Pty) Limited of South Africa and moinitoring activities started in 2007.
The investor is expected to deal with these findings before mining of nobium starts in 2015.
Globe Metals Country Manager for Malawi, Chrispine Ngwena, declined to comment on the report, stating only that all the issues identified will be captured in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which will be released this month.
The company’s Managing Director Mark Sumich says in the company’s shareholder update that a public issuance of an environmental impact assessment is scheduled for this month with the final submission to the Environmental Affairs Department planned for July.
However, the baseline survey report reveals that elevated uranium concentrations have been detected in some community boreholes.
“These concentrations exceed the WHO drinking water guidelines. The elevated uranium is expected to be related to the natural geology (granitic gneisses) of the area. Communities that use the water from boreholes with elevated uranium may be at risk of developing adverse kidney effects,” reads the executive summary of the baseline monitoring report.
The report, therefore, recommends that groundwater is to be sampled on a bi-annual basis from a rationalised set of community boreholes and the geohydrological boreholes on the site until commencement of construction of the mine.
It also recommends that surface water should be sampled on a quarterly basis when rivers are flowing and within stagnant pools for radionuclide analyses only.
The purpose of the ground and surface water monitoring, according to the report, was to establish how future mining and processing operations at Kanyika Mining Project may pose a risk of biological, radiological or chemical contaminants entering into the local groundwater or surface water.
Samples for ground and river water sampling were undertaken at Kanyika between September 2010 and November 2011 and sampling locations included community wells and boreholes, new geohydrological boreholes drilled into the ore body and in the vicinity of the tailings facility, as well as the Milenje and Kanyika rivers upstream and downstream of the proposed project area.
Reacting to the development, Friends of Mabulabo, an association representing the interests of people around the area, said they are extremely worried with the findings.
“It is clear that people of Kanyika are living in a potentially dangerous area where their lives are at a great risk. What is more shocking is that the relevant offices in the Government of Malawi have not gone to Kanyika, Mzimba to check on these very serious health issues,” reads in part a statement from the association signed by its chairperson Chrispine Sibande.
It says the government needs to rescue the people by addressing these health issues.
The association urges government departments namely the ministries of Health, Energy and Natural Resources, Local Government and the Office of the President and Cabinet to get interested in the matter.
“Again the position of the Government of Malawi will help in liasing the issues with Globe Metals and Mining Company to come of up with serious and substantial interventions before they start of mining,” reads the statement.
Sibande also said the people of Mabulabo are waiting for the government of Malawi to brief them as to how the process of relocation and compensation will take place.
He said they were saddened that a letter they submitted to the Ministry of Health to address the serious matters raised in the report had not responded to the letter.
“Malawi Government has not produced any report on issues of environment at Kanyika. No report on relocation and compensation. No report on what government is doing as the mining activities are about take off sometime in 2013. But we have always asked the government to come up with a parallel report and we are still waiting,” reads the statement.
According to Globe Metals website, the Kanyika Niobium Project is the company’s flagship project, and the project is planned to commence production of ferro-niobium in 2015.
Niobium is the chemical element with the symbol Nb and atomic number 41. A rare, soft, grey, ductile transition metal niobium is mainly found in the minerals pyrochlore, the main commercial source for niobium, and columbite.
Niobium has physical and chemical properties similar to those of the element tantalum and the two are therefore difficult to distinguish.