The challenge and necessity of transport
When it comes down to transport and logistics in the DRC you don’t think about environmental samples in the first place. However, if you want to be legally compliant with environmental regulations and save yourself a truckload of potential problems, your environmental samples will have to make an inevitable journey throughout or over several countries to reach a laboratory where the right type of analysis can be done with the right amount of quality assurance and control.

In order to be compliant with environmental regulations a miner will have to be able to show by taking regular environmental samples of its mine and plant effluents that the streams coming of the concession are not exceeding a certain guideline value. The other way around, when a mine starts, the miner wants to make sure that it’s not hold accountable for the potentially polluted water entering the concession from the polluting neighbor. The liabilities involved can be potentially enormous and pose a serious risk to miners. Potential issues are public image damage, legal pursuit or financial constraints. To explain the last one, a miner which is seeking finances from international lenders will often have to comply with certain principles in order to show that its activities are not too environmentally unfriendly. If the miner is not able to show this, lenders can withhold a loan. Or another example, if a mining area has been polluted by decennia of mining activity, a starting mine company must be able to show that the concession was already polluted before it started activities, otherwise it will run the risk of being hold accountable for the legacy pollution.

In order to be able to show that a miner pollutes or not, water is analyzed for certain parameters. These include metals like Copper and Aluminium, but also hydrocarbons, suspended solids and other ions and cations (Interestingly, Cobalt is not a parameter to be analyzed under DRC mining regulations!). The wide range of parameters to be analyzed in combination with the potential liabilities a mine carries demand a highly specialized laboratory (with ISO accreditation, which proves the competence of a lab in terms of quality of the results produced). Up to date no such independent laboratories exist in the Katanga province. Common practice for miners which do take its environmental monitoring seriously is therefore to send samples to South-Africa. Typical costs will be between 200 and 500 USD for all compulsory parameters to be analyzed. In Katanga, available methods for environmental samples will often be limited to metals and major ions only, without iso certification (and thus assurance of the quality of the results) and at much higher costs.

The fact that still a lot of miners and environmental consultants use laboratories based in Katanga is regretable. Samples analyzed and corresponding results will all too often not be and cannot be taken seriously by critical peers, despite the fact that these samples potentially being able to discern a polluting miner from a non-polluting miner. Hence, serious parties will unfortunately still have to ship their samples to SA and the rest will still think that local analysis is more advantageous, and, as it seem, a lot of miners still do not take themselves seriously.

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