Ombudsman's Office asks for a 'technical report' on the Donoso mining spill
The Ombudsman's Office asked the Ministry of the Environment (MiAmbiente) for a technical report on the “monitoring and verification” of possible contamination in Donoso, province of Colón, due to the rupture of the pipe -that carries mineral processing waters- in the exploitation of copper operated by Minera Panamá SA, a subsidiary of First Quantum Minerals Ltd.
The report must be delivered within a period of no more than five days and must contain "sampling or investigations" by the MiAmbiente "in order to corroborate the non-contamination of the rivers and streams that were affected at least visually," the letter cites. signed by the defender of the people, Eduardo Leblanc González , dated this July 20.
The break occurred on July 14 at 3:06 in the afternoon, according to Minera Panama reported to MiAmbiente. With the pronouncement of the Ombudsman's Office, there are four institutions involved in the matter: MiAmbiente and the Public Ministry, which opened investigative processes, the Ministry of Health that went to the area on Tuesday and now the Ombudsman's Office. However, the community still lacks an official report of the consequences and measures to be considered by the authorities in the short and medium term.
There are conflicting versions regarding the affected rivers. Initially, MiAmbiente detailed in a statement that the leakage of the liquid was in the direction of the tailings tank, but, "due to drainage, a quantity went to a tributary of the Chicheme stream and the Del Medio and Caimito rivers", then six hours Later, in another statement, it reported that the only stream affected was the Chicheme, taking as a reference the reports given by the mining company, since MiAmbiente appeared at the exact location of the pipe five days later.
However, the direction of MiAmbiente in the province of Coclé, which is conducting this investigation, replied that they were from Friday 16 and Saturday 17, but in the affected communities to carry out the tests, because they know the mining protocols.
For its part, Minera Panama pointed out that the damage was controlled in 12 minutes “by the rapid response team, which immediately activated the Contingency and Emergency Response protocol, who stopped the pumps and the flow in the pipeline, closing the gates. and by installing barriers with geomembrane, afterwards, the material (ground rock and water) has been cleaned, minimizing the effects ”, according to its statement.
While the investigations are concluding, there are 600 affected people in the Chicheme and Sinaí communities who used the Pifá River for their daily needs, according to the authorities of those localities. Now they cannot use the river and although Minera Panama built an aqueduct for them, it does not supply the entire population.
“The community is concerned about the large amount of sediment that came out of these pipes, and all of that went to the Pifá and Chicheme rivers, and later it goes to the Caimito river, which goes to the sea. The community of New Sinai uses that river to go home, they have to cross the same river eight times, on foot. The aqueduct that Minera Panama made them only covers 40% of the community, since the vast majority have to use the waters of the streams and rivers in the sector by force. The complaint is that there was no response or clarification from the company regarding the great damage that was occurring, "said Eulalio Yangüez, mayor of the Omar Torrijos district in an interview with La Prensa .
"As a resident of this region, it pains me to see how this forest is being destroyed, and the sediments fall into the rivers," said Yangüez, who asked, on behalf of the community, that the event not happen again because his life and the animals that drink from Pifá are in danger.
He asked MiAmbiente to verify the tailings dumps in the mountains and detect possible negligence and minimize the risks of these events since this is at least the third time that the spill has been registered. "If the project is 40 to 60 years old, how many more times is it going to happen? This will destroy the environment," he asked himself and recalled that his sector is in a protected area.
In his opinion, there is no tailings tank but a dump without filtration protection in the forest and therefore it is useless to rescue the animals that later die in the flooded forest. In this sense, some 13 reports from MiAmbiente detected, between 2012 and 2019, recurrences in sedimentation control failures that ended up in various rivers, including Chicheme, Del Medio and Caimito. There were 209 breaches of Minera Panama's environmental mitigation plan that, according to the authority, caused damage to water and soil, thus opening five administrative processes to the mining company. Minera Panamá affirms that many of these were corrected.