30 May 2005

Kanak leader claims New Caledonian government hid health warnings

1:03 pm on 30 May 2005

A Kanak activist in New Caledonia claims that the government hid medical reports warning that asbestos-type deposits in nickel ore could pose health risks.

Jacques Boengkih says the medical head of the labour department sent a letter in 2002 to the then president, Pierre Frogier, calling for more research before the Canadian nickel company, Inco, went ahead with a major project in Goro.

Mr Boengkih says the high fatality rate from lung cancer in the mining town of Houailou has forced the government to address the problem, but he's skeptical about what the study will lead to.

"We're afraid that because of the power of the money coming from Inco, the asbestos problem in the south of New Caledonia will be just left on the side, to allow Inco to build its nickel plant."

Research shows that 20 people died of cancer in Houailou over an 18-year period, which is 250 times the global average for such a small population.