Coal mines polluting half of South Kalimantan’s rivers, lakes: Greenpeace

Nearly half of all the bodies of water in South Kalimantan is at risk of being contaminated by waste from coal mines, claims a report released by Greenpeace on Wednesday.

“Revealed: Coal Mines Polluting South Kalimantan’s Water” details the findings of a nine-month Greenpeace investigation that shows hazardous waste from intensive and largely unregulated coal mining activities is contaminating the province’s streams and rivers — and in many cases breaching national standards for mining wastewater.

One third of South Kalimantan has been allocated to coal mining, posing a clear threat to the province’s water quality. Greenpeace found that hazardous discharges of acid mine waste containing iron, manganese and aluminum, among others, are reaching bodies of water and their  surrounding environment.

Around 3,000 kilometers of South Kalimantan’s rivers — almost 45 percent — are located downstream from coal mines.

“People in neighboring and downstream communities are using potentially contaminated water to bathe, wash and farm. They face unacceptable risks from coal mining activities. The government must act to safeguard their health and livelihood,” said Arif Fiyanto, Greenpeace Indonesia Climate and Energy campaigner.

Indonesia is the world’s largest exporter of thermal coal and the second largest coal exporter overall. Over the last decade, more than 90 percent of the archipelago’s coal production and exports have come from Kalimantan.

In addition to causing environmental problems, the province’s coal export boom could add 460 million metric tons to global annual carbon emissions by 2020, which would make a mockery of Indonesia’s 2009 pledge to cut emissions by up to 41 percent by 2020.

In recent years, coal production has grown the fastest in South Kalimantan, which produced 33 percent of Indonesia’s coal in 2011. As coal production has increased, so have the negative impacts on the people and environment.

Of the 29 wastewater samples taken by Greenpeace from five coal mining concessions in South Kalimantan, 22 were found to be acidic (low pH), well below the standards set by the government. Discharges, leaks and spills from contaminated ponds in coal concessions pose grave dangers to nearby creeks, swamps and rivers.

According to Greenpeace, mining companies profiting from these dirty — and in some cases illegal operations — have the responsibility to stop polluting water resources communities depend on. Companies found to be breaking the law should pay for clean-up operations even if their mining licenses expire or cancelled, since acid mine drainage (AMD) problems typically persist for many decades, the organization added.

“The new government of Indonesia and the provincial government of South Kalimantan can and must do more to hold polluters accountable to protect the people and the environment,” said Arif.

“We expect a thorough investigation by government agencies, as well as tougher regulatory control. We look forward to working with the authorities to tackle and solve the problems highlighted in our report.”

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