Rio Tinto is facing accusations it “side-stepped” responsibility to clean up poisonous waste from a closed mine on Papua New Guinea’s Bougainville island in a complaint filed Tuesday in Australia.
The complaint, lodged with Australian authorities by the Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre on behalf of more than 150 Bougainvilleans, heaps more pressure on the mining giant already under public attack for blowing up sacred Aboriginal sites.
It alleges the former Panguna copper and gold mine, which was at the center of a decade-long civil war in PNG, continues to leak waste into rivers more than three decades after it was shuttered.
“Our rivers are poisoned with copper, our homes get filled with dust from the tailings mounds, our kids get sick from the pollution,” a traditional landowner and member of local parliament, Theonila Roka Matbob, said in a statement.
When it operated between 1972 and 1989, Panguna was one of the South Pacific’s largest mines for copper and gold but anger among locals over the environmental damage and distribution of profits triggered an uprising that forced its closure.
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