Rio Tinto: Mining big accused of poisoning rivers in Papua New Guinea

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A satellite image of the Panguna mine

Mining giant Rio Tinto has been accused of spilling toxic waste into rivers from a mine it abandoned two decades ago in Papua New Guinea.

More than 150 people living in Bougainville have lodged a complaint with the Australian authorities.

They say waste from the copper and gold mine is causing health problems for 12,000 people nearby.

The mining company is ready to speak to the current owners of the Panguna mine and the local community.

It did after the head of Rio Tinto and two other senior executives resigned earlier this month after it was revealed that the company had destroyed Aboriginal holy sites in Pilbara, Western Australia.

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“Our rivers are poisoned with copper, our houses are filled with dust from the heaps, our children are sick from the pollution,” said Theonila Roka Matbob, a traditional landowner and member of the local parliament in Bougainville.

The Panguna mine was one of the largest in the region for copper and gold in the 1970s and 1980s, but widespread anger among local people over environmental damage and the distribution of profits forced it to close more than two decades ago.

Rio Tinto turned its stake in the mine over to the Papua New Guinea government four years ago, but many believe the company should continue to take responsibility for remediating the site.

“These are not problems that we can fix with bare hands. We urgently need Rio Tinto to do the right thing and to cope with the disaster they left behind,” said Ms. Matbob.

A spokesman for the British-Australian firm told the Sydney Morning Herald it was ready to deal with the local community.

“We are aware of the deterioration in mining infrastructure on the site and in the surrounding areas and the resulting adverse effects on the environment and society, including human rights,” a spokesman for the newspaper said.

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