A gold mine run by a Chinese company in southern Laos is releasing waste into a river in Sekong province, killing fish and fouling water used by villagers for drinking and bathing, Lao sources say.
The Lao Kaleum Gold Mining Project began operations last year and has polluted local water sources ever since it was launched, a resident of Ateng village, one of the affected areas, told RFA’s Lao Service on Tuesday.
“The gold mining takes place on higher ground, and the waste flows down to a reservoir,” the villager said, asking for anonymity to speak freely.
“But the reservoir is not up to standard. It leaks and overflows, and then the waste flows down to the river where we drink and bathe.”
“The pollution has already killed a lot of fish,” he added.
“We have been demanding that the project developer and the authorities restore the river to its normal condition,” he said.
Also speaking to RFA, a second Ateng villager said that he and other villagers are not opposed to government development plans. “We just need to have clean water,” he said.
“The pollution has been affecting us since last year. We’re hoping that the company is now trying to improve the waste system,” he said, adding, “A lot of fish have been killed, and we now have too little water.”
“We residents of Ateng and Ka-Ouang villages have been living in very difficult conditions,” he said.
The company managing the mine has now built a running-water system using pipes to carry water down from the mountains to affected villages.
But the amount of water delivered is insufficient, a resident of Ka-Ouang said.
“The system is broken, and has been damaged by heavy rains and storms,” he said.
To improve the flow of running water, the mining company and local authorities should monitor the waste reservoir and dump site, reduce the waste of chemical release, and restore the river to its normal condition, the villager said.
The Lao Kaleum Gold Mining Project operates as a 15-year concession approved by the central government of Laos and supervised by local authorities, and is now digging a tunnel at the site to explore for gold, an official of Sekong’s Energy and Mines Department said.
The mining company has now almost completed work on a new wastewater treatment system, including a new reservoir and dumpsite, said a provincial official responsible for coordinating the province’s dealings with the company.
“The company will tell us when it’s finished, and then we’ll inspect it. And if we see anything wrong, the company will fix it,” the official said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. “Everything must be up to our technical standard.”
“The company says that it’s aware of the villagers’ complaints and has been trying to solve these problems. And as for the running water, the company has plans to fix this in the near future,” he said.
Foreign-invested farming, mining, and development projects in Laos have sparked friction over cases of environmental pollution and land often taken without proper compensation, leaving villagers fearing retaliation if they speak out.
China is Laos’ largest foreign investor and aid provider, and its second-largest trade partner after Thailand.