10 Jul 2015

State of disaster declared at Solomons mine

6:40 am on 10 July 2015

A state of disaster has been declared at the tailings dam of the closed Gold Ridge gold mine in Solomon Islands as unseasonal rains continue to fill the dam to dangerously high levels.

The permanent secretary of the Ministry of Environment Conservation and Disaster Management has confirmed the state of disaster, saying it has been activated because of the threat to communities downstream.

Melchior Mataki says the declaration allows the National Disaster Council to invoke appropriate measures to start a limited controlled discharge of untreated water from the tailings dam.

The gold mine was sold off in April this year to local landowners by its former Australian owners St Barbara for a nominal amount a year after flash flooding forced the mine's closure.

During this period repeated attempts by St Barbara to effect a controlled release of untreated water were opposed by the government and local communities who insisted water should be treated before release.

The tailings dam contains toxic sediments including high concentrations of cyanide and arsenic which could be released in the event of a dam breach.

The over-full tailings dam facility at the Gold Ridge Gold Mine on Guadalcanal in Solomon Islands. January 2015

The Gold Ridge tailings facility on Guadalcanal in Solomon Islands. Photo: copyright Dr Matthew Allen - Australian National University