Officials from the ministries of Environment, and Mines and Energy visited Mondulkiri province to inspect Chinese gold mining company Rong Chheng, which is suspected of releasing cyanide waste into a water canal, which may have resulted in the death of at least 14 Kratie villagers earlier this month.
The company is located in Pou Tung village, Chung Phlas commune, in Keo Seima district.
Keo Seima district’s police chief, Sun Bun Thoeun, said the officials collected samples of water and sand from the company’s shafts, and other places for analysis.
“I am unsure how many mines are legal or illegal. Also, we have yet to identify the actual chemical substance they used as it is pending analysis,” he said.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Mine and Energy, Yos Monirath, said the inspection at the mines has not been completed due to heavy rains yesterday.
“Many mining shafts located in different areas are suspected of using cyanide, and we hope to complete the inspections soon,” he said.
Some 300 villagers in Kratie province were hospitalised early this month, leaving at least 14 dead. They were said to have drunk water contaminated with cynide, which is used to flush mine shafts.
Deaths from cynide contamination of the water had alarmed the authorities, and last week, Industry and Handcrafts Minister Cham Prasidh said his officials found traces of cyanide in the mine shafts.
However, he declined to name the company involved, even though he confirmed that the chemical was found in legal and illegal mining sites in Mondulkiri.
An environment official who declined to be named said that cyanide was also found at Rong Chheng’s premises.
The cynide contamination also raised concerns among wildlife and conservation groups that said indiscriminate use and release of the chemical in waterways will jeopardise the survival of wildlife, including endangered species.
Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary’s program director, Kong Putheara, said: “Although there are no reported deaths of wildlife at the sanctuary, if cyanide is still used and released into the canal systems, it will cause danger to our conservation project.”
During the rainy season, most of the wildlife animals migrate to the mountain areas to escape the floods. And they have water to drink at natural ponds at the foot of the mountains, Putheara said.
But, in the dry season, they migrate to the lowlands. “If their water sources are contaminated with cyanide, the animals will surely die, leading to their extinction, he said.
Un Chheang Lim, chief of the Chung Phlas commune, the first formal mining community in Pou Tung village, said members of his community do not use chemical substances such as cyanide in their mining operations.
“We pan for gold and wash it in water without using any chemical substance. This has been our way since the time of our ancestors,” he said.
The Rong Chheng mine management could not be reached for comment.