Sat, 26 Feb 2000

Mercury named as pollutant in Cisadane River

BOGOR (JP): An environmentalist said on Friday that Cisadane River, the water of which finds its way into homes across Jakarta and Bogor, has a high level of mercury.

In a discussion on illegal mining here, the West Java chief of the Environmental Impact Management Agency, Dodo Perdata, claimed that illegal gold mining on Mt. Pongkor in Bogor has contributed major contamination in the river.

"Ever since economic turmoil hit the country three years ago, some 6,000 illegal miners have thronged Mt. Pongkor and process the ore with mercury," Dodo said.

Mercury does not dissolved, he said, adding that a total of 16.2 tons of mercury per month were used to process the gold.

"Thirty percent of the mercury waste (or 4.86 tons) is dumped into the Cikaniki I and Cikaniki II rivers, which are upstream of Cisadane River.

So imagine the level of mercury contamination," Dodo said at the discussion attended by Minister of Mines and Energy Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Minister of Environment Sonny Keraf and health ministry expert staff member Dadi S. Argadirja.

Dodo quoted fact from research done by his office in June 1999, which reveals that the Cikaniki I and II rivers have an average mercury content of 3.58 part per million (ppm).

"In several parts of the river, the mercury levels have even reached to 28.38 part per million (ppm). In the case of Minamata Gulf in Japan where the contaminated water caused brain damage in humans, the mercury levels were only 25 ppm," he said.

Several dailies earlier reported that water samples from the river, which flows from Bogor through Tangerang, west of Jakarta, showed mercury levels at 3.33 parts per billion (ppb).

"Based on the research, it was also found that mercury content in the water has exceeded the maximum level of 0.1 ppb," Dodo said.

Separately, the production chief of Bogor-owned tap water company Ino Surisah denied reports that Cisadane River was contaminated by mercury.

"We've run a test on the river water and sent the sample to ISO certification issuer PT. Sucofindo's laboratory in Jakarta. The results show that there was no mercury detected in the water," she said.

"We are very concerned about this because 65 percent of water processed in the company comes from Cisadane River," she added.

Sonny said the government was considering of banning the use of mercury in the gold mine.

"The ban will be imposed through a ministerial instruction or a presidential decree," he said.

The miners have been accused of playing a significant role in the contamination of Cisadane River.

For several years, poorly equipped gold miners have died digging shafts in the Pongkor area to collect earth from which gold is extracted.

Yet this has not stopped others filling their places as they come all the way from the West Java, Lampung and North Sumatra.

Both ministers Bambang and Sonny suggested that PT Aneka Tambang, the enterprise running the Mt. Pongkor gold mine, hire the illegal diggers to avoid dispute.

Deddy Aditya, president of PT Aneka Tambang, however, rejected the idea, fearing that thousands of people would throng the already unstable ground.

"The condition of Pongkor is different from that of other gold mines in the country. Pongkor has deep, vertical holes rather than horizontal ones.

"It is impossible for a mine with a diameter of only four to six meters to be filled with dozens of unskilled labors. The safety and security risks are too high," Deddy said. (21/24/edt)