October 29, 2008 / 11:46 PM / 9 years ago

Mining mess could poison Peru's water

<p>File image of a person holding bottles of water. REUTERS/Darren Staples/file</p>

LIMA (Reuters) - Peru’s government said on Wednesday it fears the coming rainy season could cause an environmental mess by destabilizing tailing ponds near a river that provides drinking water to the capital, Lima.

Gold Hawk Resources of Canada, a tiny metals company, stopped production in May at the processing plant for its Coricancha mine as a preventative measure.

An emergency decree the government issued in July helped stop farmers from irrigating crops on the hills above the tailing site over concern the irrigation water could put pressure on the walls of the ponds, which contain toxic chemicals.

But now the rainy season is approaching.

“With the rains, there could be filtration on the hillside and cause a disaster that would affect the central highway, a mining facility, a hydroelectric plant, and the tailings would reach the Rimac River, causing a big disaster of contamination,” said Environment Minister Antonio Brack.

The company says it is waiting for a permit from the government that would allow it to open a new tailing facility that has been built in a safe location, 18 miles away from the plant, which sits 55 miles east of Lima.

The ponds, close to the Rimac river that runs into the Pacific Ocean, have about 744,000 metric tonnes of tailings, the government said.

Brack said the mines and energy ministry is preparing another emergency measure to finance the clean-up of a potential slide in the area.

Peru’s civil defense agency has also recommended the contents of the existing tailing ponds be emptied to “avoid a possible collapse that could result in the loss of lives.”

Reporting by Marco Aquino, Terry Wade and Teresa Cespedes; Editing by Christian Wiessner

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