Experts from the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology determined that a protected reservoir in Banteay Meanchey province was relatively free of chemical contamination from upstream mining, after they completed an investigation into the reservoir’s water quality Friday.
The experts were asked to investigate the Ang Trapaing Thmar reservoir after villagers complained of skin rashes from bathing in the reservoir, raising the possibility that hazardous chemical runoff from a gold-mining site upstream was responsible.
“The water in the reservoir is safe for aquatic resources and human beings to use,” said Yim Thorn, chief of the Ministry of Water Resource and Meteorology’s laboratory office, on returning from the trip Monday.
He said that while in Banteay Meanchey province, the group tested water in 20 places in the reservoir for levels of oxygen, minerals and pH levels—a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. A pH level of 7 indicates neutrality, below 7 is acidic and above 7 is alkaline.
“The water now contains about 5.9 pH of acidity, which is far from the hazardous acidity level of 4 pH,” said Nhan Bunthorn, chief of the Wildlife Protection Office’s crane conservation unit at the reservoir. “Anything lower than 5 pH or higher than 9 pH is bad.”
But Nhan Bunthorn warned that contamination is inevitable if environmental management is not properly enforced in the gold-mining areas upstream. Unchecked mining upstream from the reservoir poses the risk of harmful agents from the mine eventually entering the reservoir, he said.
“The minerals from the mine could [contaminate] the water and drive out or kill aquatic life,” he said. “There must be environmental awareness over this problem before such a scenario occurs.”
Yos Monirath, deputy director of the Mineral Resource Department at the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy said Monday the ministry had issued licenses for companies to conduct only exploratory tests for potential gold deposits.
“It will not hurt the environment because it’s not a big commercial mining operation. It’s just research,” he said.