Thursday, December 23, 2004; Page A18
JAKARTA, Indonesia, Dec. 22 -- A U.S. mining company acknowledged Wednesday that it released tons of mercury into the air and water over five years at one of its gold mines in Indonesia but denied causing harm to anyone's health.
The acknowledgment by Newmont Mining Corp. is its latest setback in a six-month battle to defend itself against allegations that it polluted the area. Indonesian police have accused the company's local subsidiary, Newmont Minahasa Raya, of dumping heavy metals into Buyat Bay, causing residents to develop skin diseases and tumors.
In a faxed statement, the Denver-based company insisted that it had adhered to all "appropriate standards" and that at no time "did any test or monitoring data show that there were health impacts to employees or the community as a result of operations."
Doug Hock, a company spokesman in Denver, said the mine released 17 tons of mercury into the air and 16 tons into the water over five years.
"The government was aware that there was mercury being released from the plant," Hock said. "This is not news. It is not a surprise to anyone."
Newmont issued the statement in response to an article in the New York Times that said an internal report from 2001 warned that the mine in Buyat Bay on Sulawesi island was putting tons of toxic mercury into the environment. The internal report also said the company was not abiding by its public statements that it was upholding U.S. environmental standards, the Times reported.
Indonesia plans to put five Newmont executives on trial next month -- an American, an Australian and three Indonesians -- in connection with the pollution. If found guilty, they could face up to 15 years in jail.
Villagers have also filed a $543 million lawsuit against the company, and environmentalists have discussed filing additional litigation.
In its statement, the firm said it had installed mercury scrubbers to minimize emissions. It acknowledged that the scrubbers experienced "some operations issues" but said emissions from the plant "at no time endangered human health or the environment."