Syriza MPs say that not only has Hellas Gold not taken the necessary safety precautions when transporting arsenopyrite, it has described it as something else in order to avoid paying tax
There have been calls for the public prosecutor to take action against a gold mining company operating in northern Greece for what residents say is the illegal transportation and storage of toxic material extracted from its mines.
At a press conference held on Monday in Thessloniki, MPs and representatives from the main opposition party Syriza said that the Hellas Gold company, largely owned by Canada’s Eldorado Gold, has been transporting mining concentrate on open juggernauts from its operations at Olympiada and Stratoni, on the Halkidiki peninsula, to Thessaloniki port, without the required permits or safety precautions.
They say the material is trucked through Natura sites and residential areas by a transport company, Balkan Logistics, and is stored at Sindos industrial park, near Thessaloniki, before being loaded onto container ships destined for China.
While the delivery note have stated that the material is “pyrite” – or “fool’s gold”, residents claim it is highly toxic arsenopyrite, which is sent to China so that remaining traces of gold can be extracted.
Arsenopyrite is arsenic iron sulfide, which is the same type of mineral as pyrite but with a heavy addition of arsenic. If one attempts to heat or in any way alter the mineral, a strong garlic odour of arsenic will be produced as lethally toxic, corrosive and carcinogenic vapours are released.
Relying to the allegations, Hellas Gold said that the “mineral product” in question is pyrite concentrate and that this is excluded from the Seveso II directive. The company said it has permits for all its transport activities.
But the Syriza MPs claim that the actual contents of the transports came to light following to recent incidents: an accident involving a truck at Rentina, outside Thessaloniki, last month and the subsequent refusal of a ship’s captain to allow a container holding material board his vessel, after one of them leaked.
The press conference heard that tests carried out on the leaked material found at Rentina proves that it is highly toxic and poses a danger to public health.
The Syriza representatives also said that by declaring it as pyrite, Hellas Gold avoids paying tax to the state, estimated to be in the region of €30m, on estimated profits of €121.4m.
In addition to avoiding tax, classifying the material as pyrite also means the company avoids EU regulations on transporting toxic materials, further reducing costs.
Residents have lodged a complaint about the company’s alleged activities to the fraud squad SDOE.
They say that following the Rentina accident, Hellas Gold began transferring the material in closed containers, after using open trucks beforehand.
They also say that the storage facility at Sindos is not licensed in accordance with the European Seveso ΙΙ directive on the prevention of chemical accidents. An application for that status was only made after the Rentina accident.
Another shortcoming is the failure to carry out tests on the material before it is shipping from Thessaloniki port.
Hellas Gold is also development a mine at Skouries, which has been the focus of residents’ protests for months.