* Miners in W. Africa step up safeguards
* Infrared sensors, sonic bat repellants may be deployed
* Abundance of gold, iron ore, other minerals too tempting
By James Regan
SYDNEY, Sept 5 Mining companies are beefing up
protection against the spreading Ebola virus in West Africa
while maintaining investment in new projects in a region with
vast untapped mineral wealth.
Attempts to keep the deadly virus out of work sites range
from turning away anyone who has come from countries where Ebola
is present to installing infrared heat monitors to measure body
temperatures of employees as they pass through mine gates.
Similar devices have been deployed in airports to identify
carriers during outbreaks of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
(SARS), bird flu and swine flu.
In iron ore-rich Guinea, where the first deaths from Ebola
were confirmed in March - the outbreak has since spread to
Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Senegal - the government
anticipates $50 billion of mining investments over the next
decade, Minister for Mines Kerfalla Yansane said this
David Heymann, a professor of infectious disease
epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical
Medicine, is calling on companies to consider installing sonar
bat repellant technology at mine sites.
Some medical experts believe that bats and other animals are
the natural hosts of the Ebola virus, which has led Guinea to
ban consumption of bat soup, grilled bat and other such items.
DISCOURAGING BUSH MEAT
Eating "bush" meats, such as rats and other rodents, by
employees should also be discouraged, according to Heymann.
"Instead of packing up and leaving, mining companies should
work with the affected country to try and stop the outbreak,"
Heymann said in a telephone interview from an "Africa Down
Under" mining investment conference in Perth, Australia.
"The most effective approach is to conduct a risk assessment
before going into a country and determine what the factors might
be and make sure that they can be mitigated," Heymann said.
More than 200 Australian mining companies with more than 700
projects operate in Africa.
Tawana Resources in August suspended all
non-essential field work at its mine in Liberia after a state of
emergency was declared, but there has been little to suggest
mining companies are taking investments elsewhere.
Nearly a third of global mineral reserves are in Africa and
the continent as a whole offers the highest prospects for
unearthing new mineral resources, according to geologists.
GOLD HOT SPOT
Papillon Resources Ltd expects to start
construction of the Fekola gold mine in Mali in the next quarter
- the same time as it beds down a $650 million merger with
B2Gold Corp of Canada.
"Fekola is a $350 million mining investment and we are ready
to go," Papillon Managing Director Mark Connelly said.
West Africa remains a "gold industry hot spot", says Ann
Ledwidge, an exploration manager for Orbis Gold Ltd,
which is constructing three gold mines in Burkina Faso.
"This is the sort of appeal attracting a significant
representation of international companies," she said.
In Burkina Faso, Gryphon Minerals Ltd is "on the
cusp" of obtaining finance from Australia's Macquarie Bank to
help fund construction of a $97 million gold mine, Gryphon
Managing Director Steve Zaninovich said.
To reduce the risk of the transmission of Ebola, Rio Tinto
, which is spending $3 billion with Chinese
partner Chinalco < 3668.HK> on the Simandou iron ore project in
Guinea, asks staff who have visited highest-risk areas to stay
at home for up to 21 days before returning to work, a company
Perseus Mining, which has mines in Ghana and Ivory
Coast, has issued health warnings and barred anyone coming from
Guinea, Sierra Leone or Liberia from its sites.
It has also bought infrared heat monitors to take the
temperatures of workers to identify anyone running a fever,
which could signal infection by the Ebola virus.
"We will do all that we can, but at the end of the day we
are a mining company, not medicos," Perseus Managing Director
Jeff Quartermaine said.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)