Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Speculative Selling of Copper Hits Radovis, Macedonia and Makes Me Sad and Angry
Tosko called me the other day to say "Hi" after returning from his New Year's trip to Macedonia. We blabbered about Esther (his wife) and Katarina (his daughter) and about Zvanko (my best man in Skopje who invited them for a great lunch) and eventually he asked:
-Don't you miss Macedonia? You haven't been there for eight months.
I do not keep count how many times people go where, but this question struck a note. Somewhat gloomy, depressing and annoying note. It was useless to begin telling dear Tosko that I just came back from Radovis, where the people bake one of the best "pastrmayliya" in the country. (Pastrmayliya is something like pizza, but then different, it is made of chunks of pork meat, chunks of lard and several freshly broken eggs over round pieces of home-made dough which is baked at the lokal bakery.) He would not have understood.
The Financial Times took me yesterday to Radovis. The news (Please see the illustration here with my comment interpolated within the original text) that speculative selling had put the prices of commodities under further pressure meant that the people in and around Radovis must have had a rather gloomy Xmas and New Year. Between December 7, 2006 and January 4, 2007 the prices of copper have tumbled from $6,800 per tone down to $5,800 per ton.
The VakantieBeurs has just opened its doors and it was Ruzica Panevska my old, ailing colleague in tourism, who used to come and who is a native of Radovis. Then, my friend's Ratko Radjenovik, an architect, had a bos Risto Gusterov, one of the few richest people in Macedonia comes from Radovis, the only copper mine in Macedonia. We have not met, but he was so often in our conversations (not about Radovis where he donated money for a church to be built AND decorated by Ukrainian artists) about life in Macedonia and Russia, that I feel as if I know the guy. Zvonko Cipusev, who was two or three times my host in New York, albeit his dad Iliya, comes from Radovis.
Radovish is on my mind al the time. It is almost like Georgia.
But then Sveto Hadji-Jordanov the brother of my class-mate Marika Hadzi-Jordanova wrote a remarkable study about the waste-waters from the copper-ore field. Bunches of other friends come from that south-eastern corner of Macedonia. These several days I continuously contemplate how much damage will they suffer, the people of Radovis without the speculators, greedy ogres with claws tearing the lives of the innocent people, ever knowing that Radovis exists..
And Tosko tells me I do not visit Macedonia!
I daydream that there would be smart Macedonians or Turks, who live around there, who would put all their moneys to stockpile for themselves the copper at $5,800 and sell it when it goes back to $6,800 or $7,800. Then I begin to devise complex loans: what they actually need is the $1,000 per ton to obtain the command over the production. The banks should follow them because they will have had the collateral, the $5,800 value of copper per ton.
Radovis, actually Buchim, the mine, has been operating since 1979. It was 82 % Government owned and had approximately 800 employees. The mine produces about four million tons of ore per year and a similar quantity of tailings. Now the mine is private. It was bought two years ago by a businessman, Aleksander Borstein, who says he is Russian, though he does not sound so.
Concentration of copper, gold and silver is achieved through a flotation process using sodium- and potassium-alkyl-xanthates, sulfuric acid and a bacterium (Bacillus ferrooxidacae). Cyanides were formerly used in the flotation process, but this practice ceased long time ago.
During the first years of Buchim I was shocked to see how much is 70,000 tons of solid waste that is spat by the exploitation every year. And then so much next year. And next again. And it had been in operation ever since 1979! My first door neighbor in Skopje retired as a chief technology engineer from Buchim. I know the ills of the enterprise.
The waste contains heavy metals from the flotation and all that rubble goes into a huge dam not far from there. People get sick out there from inhaling the dust from the 30-hectare hydro-tailings dam. Many mineworkers suffer joint ailments and silicosis. Actually, all local citizens. will suffer sooner or latter. Trees that are planted take time to develop and people live on hope and high price of the copper. Not any more.
The waste waters are another problem. The stream from which cattle drink appears bluish on the surface but it is from the copper-hydro-xy-carbonate that is discharged at the rate of 10 liters per second and settles on the bottom.
Surface water samples point to contamination with heavy metals while analyses show values for copper concentrations between 50 and 200 mg/1. That is 50,000 times higher than the surface water quality standard in Germany . If you transfer that in percentages, the water around the mine is 5,000.000% worse in Radovish then in Dusseldorf. Here, around my Amstelveen, according Dutch standards, they would have a general alert if the values for copper in groundwater are 0.015 mg/1 and 0.075 mg/1, respectively. Out there in Radovis - 50 mg/1 is "normal".
That is - If there is water.
Open pit mining, ore dressing and flotation in Bucbim mine are accomplished by using vast amount of water. The
complex water circulation scheme means water losses. In this process, part of the flotation waste water enters the nearby watercourses, thus contaminating them with heavy metals, organic tensides, etc. Resulting contamination is further spread up to the Vardar River and Aegean Sea.
Smaller part of the ponds and other out-of-pipe water reaches the underground aquifers and lowers the
quality of water used in nearby village-wells. Acid mine leaching of copper minerals in the overburden disposal site as well as the waters from the mines - also contribute in stream pollution. The waste waters from overburden leaching are extremely concentrated and contain up to 840mg/L cuprum-dioxide in an average flow of 2 liters per second.
Republic of Macedonia has some poly-metallic complex sulfide ore deposits. They are used for production of metals like copper, zinc, lead, silver and even some gold. The exploitation of sulfide ores requires a complex treatment during which the low-grade ore is enriched. copper concentrate is produced by flotation and is later transformed into blister copper and finally into electrolytic copper of 99.95 purity.
The exploitation of copper ore deposits, together with metal extraction that follows, causes severe environmental pollution problems. Yeah, that's a problem, but the open pit exploitation still employed 480 people and left the owner with $20 million annual profit... depending whether copper was in the cross-haires of speculators or not. A hell of a lot of work. There are many Turks around, old Turkish villages, right up in the mountains. Most picturesque. And very, very bitter. They feel neglected: the Albanians and the Roma get most of the attention. But that is not right. I know through my late friend, an ethnic-Turk, d-r Halit Shaban that not a single one of the Turks in Macedonia is actually forgotten. They are so desperately few.
Both the director and the editor of the most influential daily newspapers are ethnic-Turks. One of them, Srdjan Kerim otherwise a crook in the eyes of people who think plagiarism is tantamount to theft, may become the next president of the General Assembly of the United Nations. So, they are not forgotten.
Tosko is wrong, I do think of Macedonia without being there.
Kerim's right-hand man, a sort of grand-vezier, Erol Rizaov is also an ethnic-Turk from Eastern Macedonia. Rizaov is a crook too, but an influential one as well. He did rise (once) his voice about neglected cultural aspects of the Turkish heritage in Macedonia but would have exploded a campaign about the conditions (miserable) of these Turks here.
Copper works in Buchim, has been in operation 25 out of the 27 years since 1979. Open pit mining is applied with a capacity of some 4 million tons a year ore. The average content of copper in the ore is low: a quarter of one percent (0.25% Cu) but for poor Macedonia that is a boon even without the one gram of silver per one tone of ore. How much silver from 4 million tons of ore? Flotation efficiency is 1.2% (m/m) and the separation of useful components is 85, 35, and 60% respectively, for copper, gold and silver. After metallurgical treatment, that takes place elsewhere, annual metal production averages 8,000 tons of copper, 800 kg of gold (Aurum) and 800 kg of silver (argentum).
How much does this cost? With the prices under speculative pressure you need to see for yourself. Take gold for instance: Now gold is traded around $616 an ounce, highest price in maybe 20 years!. Who knows how will the slide affect the Russian (?!) owner of the ore and, then, the people who work for him? Silver sells at about $12,4 an ounce in new York bidding.
Strange - all this runs in front of my eyes just because of the news of the speculative selling of commodities on the stock exchanges around the world and my reflections what misery it will bring, unexpected, to the people around Radovis...