From: Reuters
Published November 20, 2007 12:34 PM

Congolese river used for radioactive dumping no danger

By Joe Bavier

KINSHASA (Reuters) - A river in southeastern Congo where authorities believe as much as 19 tons of radioactive minerals were dumped earlier this month is no longer a danger to local people, officials said on Tuesday.

Authorities seized the minerals, mainly copper and cobalt ore, in the city of Likasi in Congo's mineral-rich Katanga province in October after tests revealed radiation levels nearly 50 times the limit for mineral exports.

Katanga's environment minister ordered their disposal at a nearby abandoned uranium mine but the load never made it and the government says at least some of the ore was dropped from a bridge into the Mura river, just 6 miles outside Likasi.

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"Practically all of the product has now been removed (from the river). Even at the dumping site, when we removed the sacks, we tested and there was nothing," Joseph Monga Herion, technical advisor to the provincial infrastructure minister, told Reuters.

"There is no longer any risk."

Workers removed some 12 tons of minerals from the site, just 4 miles upstream from one of three pumping stations providing drinking water to Likasi's 300,000 inhabitants.

Congo's Environment Minister Didace Pembe told Reuters earlier this month that he believed some of the minerals had disappeared and were never dumped in the Mura.

Officials from Congo's national water company, known as Regideso, said they had restarted the pumping station following a three-day closure, when tests revealed water from the river was not contaminated.

"We took samples at the pumping station and at the water purification factory. The levels we found were normal," Regideso's technical director in Katanga, Vincent de Paul Thihanga, said.

The government initially banned local inhabitants from using water from the river for human or animal consumption, and a quarantine zone was set up around the dumping site.

Those measures, Monga Herion said, had now been lifted.

Congolese authorities have arrested seven people, including the entire team charged with disposing of the minerals, in connection with the dumping.

Ore mined in Katanga, home to one of the world's richest belts of copper and cobalt, habitually contains trace amounts of uranium, which Congo is currently banned from exporting.

Congolese officials said the dumped minerals were believed to have come from the nearby Kolwezi area, home to projects by several foreign mining groups including Katanga Mining, Nikanor, and Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold.

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