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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Secondhand gold mining a toxic threat

Secondhand gold mining a toxic threat

CASTING toxic chemicals into rice fields and water sources, a growing illegal mining practice in Preah Vihear, has come under the watch of authorities there, who blame a network of clandestine traders for promoting it.

Provoked by cash offers from shady traders, villagers in Rovieng district are collecting soil from state-owned mines that had previously been quarried for gold, said the director of the province's Department of Industry, Mines and Energy, Sam Leang Ny. The soil, he said, has value for a second round of extraction that uses abrasive chemicals to filter out remaining particles of gold.

He said a karong sack of soil, which holds 60 kilograms, fetches around five dollars.

"Villagers are storing the soil in sacks at their home and waiting for businessmen to take them," he  said. He said officials there have observed one home in Romtom commune's Trapaing Totoeng village that has 150 sacks of the soil stored outside.

"We have not confiscated it from villagers because we are waiting to investigate the businessmen who tell people to do it, and we will arrest them," he said.

A provincial judge last month summoned three men to court after they were accused by Preah Vihear's Department of Industry, Mines and Energy of extracting soil from state-owned mines. Authorities also said the practice used filtering chemicals that were seeping into rice fields and water systems, causing health problems among local communities and their livestock.

Cheat Kontol, Rovieng district's deputy governor, said illegal mining has continued despite the probe by local authorities. "They are still digging," he said. "Even though we have tried to punish them, they can hide their work because they do it in the forest."

Deputy provincial Governor Long Sovan said authorities had succeeded in cracking down on the use of chemicals in large-mining operations, but said the practice has continued on a smaller scale in isolated pockets of the province.

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