Fluoride Action Network

The exploitation of minerals of Sri Lanka

Source: The Island | August 15th, 2017 | By Ashley de Vos
Location: Sri Lanka
Industry type: Phosphate Industry

An excerpt from a longer article:

…The question that may be asked is what happens when all these resources are extracted out of the ground to be enjoyed by someone else? Is this not exploitation to benefit a select few in the short term? What happens to the human populations in these countries, after they have been raped of their resources and what happens to the deep open pits left behind? Maybe “Open Pit Tourism? The way to go. For example, the Congo a large country with unbelievable riches, raped for decades by the colonial rulers and corrupt leaders, is today one of the poorest countries in Africa. Wake up Sri Lanka!

Some years ago, Sri Lanka experienced an early attempt by a foreign company with Japanese/American and local political backing, in its attempt to exploit the whole of the Eppawela rock phosphate deposit within a very short period of 30 years. The 10 mile buffer zone round the deposit insisted on by the company as an insurance against the deposit extending far beyond what is known today, stretched up to the sacred city of Anuradhapura and the Sri Maha Bodhi and even ignored the many historic remains existing in between. The exploited material was to be taken by special train to Trincomalee to a processing plant where the sulphuric acid tanks were located and the excess residue from the process, the mountains of phosphor gypsumwas to be collected in Cod bay with a new sea dam, constructed across its short mouth closing it off from the Ocean. Over time the leeching of this phosphor gypsum into the sea, could affect the future of all marine life in the deep channel going north east out of Trincomalee.

‘Phosphor gypsum is a carcinogenic substance and getting rid of it is difficult. Gypsum stacks represent a serious environmental threat to Central Florida and other American cities. According to the EPA, 32 million tons of new gypsum waste is created each year by the phosphate industry in Central Florida alone.’

As noted by the popularTampa Tribune, “The gypsum mound is near capacity, and a wet spring or a tropical storm could cause a catastrophic spill” To prevent such a spill, which was all but inevitable, the US – EPA recently agreed to let Florida pursue “Option Z”: To load 500-600 million gallons of the waste water onto barges and dump it directly into the Gulf of Mexico.The dumping of the waste water into the Gulf represents the latest in a series of high-profile embarrassments for Florida’s phosphate industry; one of the most dramatic of which happened on June 15, 1994.As noted by the St. Petersburg Times, “Spills from these stacks have periodically poisoned the Tampa Bay environs.” One spill, in 1997, from a now-defunct gypsum stack in Florida, “killed more than a million fish.”

‘Resting atop the phosphate industry’s gypsum piles are highly-acidic wastewater ponds, littered with toxic contaminants, including fluoride, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, and the various decay-products of uranium? This combination of acidity and toxins makes for a poisonous, high-volume, cocktail, which, when leaked into the environment, wreaks havoc to waterways and fish populations. Due to big company pressure these cities have not been able to evacuate these mountains of the Phosphor gypsum’.

Only a few Sri Lankans realise that the ancients did make use of the fertilizer at Eppawela, but in a more subtle and sustainable manner. They did not dig it out of the ground, instead they used the monsoon rains to wash over it. The Ela has no bund on the side of the deposit but only on the side opposite to the deposit. Rain water run off over the deposit carried a very small, but sufficient amount into the Ela. This is then taken along with the water in the canal to the fields of Anuradhapura. This intelligent use ensured that the deposit was in use for over two thousand years and still available for another couple of thousand years, if not misused. This is ancient philosophy and knowledge at its sustainable best.

The cry raised by the Farmers and the Temple priest in Eppawela, with the support of the prime mover the well-known photographer, the late Nihal Fernando and other committed environmentalists sounded a very loud ‘Apita Epa Wala’ against the exploitation. The sale of this depositand the proposed open mining programme of the foreign group, finally ended in court. The brilliant judgement at the conclusion of the court proceedings by the very eminent judge Ranjit Amarasinghe, was a milestone in judicial history. This judgement should be read by all, including the political entities. All students of law interested in environmental issues should study the case. We have to educate yourselves on why these valuable resources should be preserved and not lost to a greed-driven herd?

Is the present excavation of the phosphate rock that is taking place at Eppawela, though small in relation to what was to have been done, helping to create thedeadly cocktail? Now being transported along the Ela carrying water to the fields in the NCP and likely responsible for the new diseases experienced by the poor farmer? We will never know…

*Original article online at http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=170031