Thailand Gold Miner Must Allay Contamination Concerns to Restart

Thailand’s largest gold mine, shuttered three days ago on concern over arsenic and manganese contamination in nearby villages, must show evidence it isn’t the source, the government said.

“People’s lives are at stake,” Director-General for the Department of Primary Industries and Mines Surapong Chiangthong said today by phone. “There are more than 200 villagers who found arsenic and manganese contamination in their blood.”

Kingsgate Consolidated Ltd. was ordered to suspend output at its Chatree mine venture, in central Thailand, for as many as 30 days and conduct inquiries. Should the Sydney-based miner fail to give evidence within that time, the suspension can be extended, Surapong said.

“The accusations have been made and we now have to prove they are wrong,” Kingsgate Chairman Ross Smyth-Kirk said today in a phone interview. “We have independent international experts, and experts associated with one of the major Thai universities and a major hospital, carrying out scientific tests.”

A license can be revoked if a company is deemed to be slow to respond or doesn’t cooperate, Surapong said. Akara Resources Public Co., which runs Chatree, is 48 percent owned by Kingsgate.

Local campaigners, including prominent Thai forensic pathologist Porntip Rojanasunan, had earlier highlighted tests that they said showed 329 of 600 blood samples taken last year from residents in nearby villages demonstrated elevated levels of the two materials, Smyth-Kirk said. “It’s mystifying to us” that authorities would question whether the mine could be a source of the contamination, he said.

Lost Output

Output of as much as 12,000 ounces of gold may be lost at Chatree should the suspension continue for 30 days, Smyth-Kirk said. Any revenue shortfall could be made up by processing higher-grade ore when work recommences, he said. Chatree produced 33,648 ounces of gold in the three months through September, filings show.

Mining laws require the government to intervene in instances where operations may be the cause of a risk to health, Surapong said. Inhalation of manganese can impact the nervous system and lead to pneumonia, while exposure to arsenic can cause vomiting and irritated lungs, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Studies have linked ingestion and inhalation of arsenic to increased risks of cancers, the agency says.

Kingsgate doesn’t mine arsenic or manganese or use either material to process gold at Chatree, about 280 kilometers (174 miles) north of Bangkok, Smyth-Kirk said. It does use cyanide and adheres to international standings on handling of the material, according to company filings.

About 700 of the 1,100 workers at Chatree have undergone recent blood tests as part of routine health checks and shown no indication of sickness, Smyth-Kirk said.

“There have been no problems with any contamination,” Smyth-Kirk said. “If there were, then surely the people working there would be the first affected.”

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