Maasai cows lie in a trench where a mining company drains its effluent

In what might turn out to be a big environmental scandal, a South African listed gold mining company is on the spot for poisoning Maasai cows in Kenya –and burying them to avoid scrutiny.

Already, a farmer in Narok County has lost 18 cows after they drunk poisonous effluent from Goldplat’s  gold-mining factory located in South West Kenya.

It is known that  small-scale mining operations practice illegal dumping of their toxic byproducts when the government is not keen.

The owner of the cows, an old Joseph Tipaa told Kenya’s Daily Nation that his cows were grazing near the gold processing plant before they consumed the dirty water in a trench trickling from leach tanks used in the extraction of gold.

Why Kilimapesa, the Kenyan subsidiary of Goldplat PLC, allowed the poisonous effluent to escape to Maasai grazing grounds is not known and points out to negligence by the company.

Tipaa’s brother, Phillip said the incident happened at around 3pm on Saturday.

“The owner of the cows is my brother. He has three wives and more than 10 children. Their economic lifeline was this afternoon crippled because of negligence by the Goldplat company that releases poisonous effluent to the environment,” Phillip told the Kenyan newspaper.

In order to hide the evidence, the company is reported to have hurriedly buried the carcasses and promised to compensate the farmer even before officers from the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) visited the site.

One of the conditions given to Kilimapesa is to make sure that no pollutants find their way out of the secure compound. It is known that extracting the ore is not the only source of pollution in gold mining.

The Kilimapesa mine in Kenya

Actually, the refining of raw ore involves the removal of  impurities using caustic chemicals. One method used by Kilimapesa involves dissolving the gold with a concentrated cyanide solution, allowing the resulting liquid to run away from the remaining ore and collecting it for reconstitution. The concentrations of cyanide used in this process are extremely dangerous, and if spilled into the environment, pose a significant threat to wildlife and human health. That is what happened in Narok county.

Kilimapesa is Goldplat’s only primary gold producing mine in its portfolio with its core business being precious metals recovery from by-products of mining operations.

Gold mining has potential of poisoning water resources if acid washed out of mines finds its way into the water table. This can alter the pH of nearby streams and rivers and threatening the survival of wildlife. Also failure to secure the tailing dams can lead to environmental disaster. This is because the dams are usually dangerous because they attract wildlife such as waterfowl or caribou as they appear to be a natural pond, but they can be highly toxic and harmful to the health of these animals.

The dams are used to store the waste made from separating minerals from rocks, or the slurry produced from tar sands mining.

How water from Kilimapesa’s tailing dams left its compound into a trench is not known and the officials had been silent since Saturday when the incident took place.

The Guernsey-registered company is led by a South African Gerard Kisbey-Green who has been struggling to make money out of the Kenyan gold-mine which made some loses last year.

Gerard Kisbey-Green

Also, the company has been having problems with the Kenya Revenue Authority according to its 2017 annual report.

Kilimapesa consists of narrow, high-grade quartz veins, and is operated as an underground mine.

Since pouring first gold in 2012, the operation has been constrained by processing capacity, having produced 932 oz of gold in the six month period ended 31 December 2015 and 1 190 oz in the six month period ended 31 December 2016.

When comparing gold output with the operational expenditure, Kilimapesa has been a loss making operation for a long time, Kisbey-Green was quoted by a newspaper.

Investment in the processing facility at Kilimapesa was largely been funded from within Goldplat’s subsidiaries. A $2 million loan facility with Scipion Active Trading Fund, entered into in March was used to complete stage two of the processing plant expansion and to repay the capital made available to it from group subsidiaries.

How the current poisoning of Maasai cow will complicate its operations remains to be seen – but the company will have many questions to answer.

In South Africa, Gold-mining companies have always been accused of contaminating a number of water sources with radioactive pollutants.

One famous case involved the Wonderfontein Spruit — a stream that runs 90 kilometers from the outskirts of Johannesburg to the southwest past the towns of Krugersdorp, Bekkersdal, Carletonville and Khutsong, before flowing into the Mooi River near Potchefstroom.

Mining companies have been blamed  for the high concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, copper, cobalt and zinc in the waters of the “spruit” (watercourse). Also of concern is the levels of uranium, which gives off radioactive byproducts such as polonium and lead.

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