Flash floods and heavy rains in the Solomon Islands have potentially damaged the dam of a gold mine tailings storage facility. Following the request of the Solomon Islands, the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit and the European Union Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) have assembled a team of three independent experts to assess the potential dangers of this tailings dam weakening. One of the potential risks is a toxic spill of hazardous chemicals from the gold extraction processes, such as cyanide and arsenic in the surrounding area. RIVM has been asked to provide support and carry out an initial assessment of the presence of hazardous substances, such as mercury, arsenic and cyanide, and, if required, to take environmental samples for analysis. The RIVM expert travelled to the area on the 19th of April 2014.
The team is supported by the European Commission Community Mechanism for Civil Protection and will remain in the Solomon Islands for two weeks to conduct assessments and prepare a report for the Government. RIVM itself has been commissioned by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take part in this mission.
In addition to the support provided to the Solomon Islands RIVM is also participating in a mission organised by the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit (JEU), the Organisation for Safety and Collaboration in Europe (OVSE), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In Georgia large quantities of poorly stored arsenic containing waste materials pose significant risks to the surrounding communities and the environment. This waste originates from a mining factory that was producing arsenic anhydride and metallic arsenic but ceased its operation in the beginning of the 1990s. The site poses a threat both to the nearby residing population particularly due to the heavy rainfall and the erosion in that area. The Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Protection (MENRP) of Georgia submitted a request to the UN and asked for assistance by developing practical recommendations for the safe management, transportation, storage and on-site disposal options of the arsenic containing waste. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment has requested that Dutch expertise from RIVM be made available to participate in the UN-team. An RIVM-expert joined the team of experts in Georgia on the 1st of May.
Natural and environmental disasters can occur anywhere, and they cannot always be prevented. In the aftermath, it is essential to assess the consequences as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. That is why The Netherlands has developed the Environmental Assessment Unit (EAU) which is managed by RIVM. This unit consists of a small, flexible team that can be deployed quickly anywhere in the world together with the equipment that meet the highest standards. The expertise of the EAU is mainly used to assess the medium- and long-term effects of environmental disasters. The development of this unit has been a joint initiative of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The two ministries entered into a partnership in response to international demand for specific environmental expertise in the wake of disasters.