A Moroccan cobalt mine denies claims of arsenic-contaminated local water. Automakers are concerned

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — A mining company controlled by Morocco 's royal family on Wednesday denied claims that operations at a site used to mine minerals for car batteries were causing hazardous levels of arsenic to appear in the local water supply.

The Managem Group in a statement denied the findings published in German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung that pointed to increased levels of arsenic in the water near its century-old cobalt mine at Bou Azzer in the central Moroccan desert.

The newspaper's investigation, published last weekend, found those levels of arsenic were hazardous.

At the mine itself, they found almost 19,000 micrograms of arsenic per liter in the water. In Zaouit Sidi Blal, a date-farming community 4.3 miles (7 kilometers) from the mine, they found just over 400 micrograms of arsenic per liter of water. That’s roughly 44 times the World Health Organization’s guideline value for lifelong consumption, the investigation said.

Arsenic is a toxic chemical found in sulfur and metals that has been linked to cancer and vascular disease.

In its statement, Managem — a subsidiary of King Mohammed VI’s Al Mada Group — said its own monitoring had yielded no evidence of health or water quality issues. It said the mine examined water quality for the presence of heavy metals regularly as part of annual audits but did not provide its own figures.

“Even if water retention basins can experience minor residual seepage under certain conditions, these present no hazard to nature, and are currently being upgraded in line with our commitment to zero impact on the environment,” the mining company said.

The findings could complicate the search for new sources of cobalt. European carmakers have already said they plan to further examine water issues at Bou Azzer.

Along with lithium and nickel, cobalt is an increasingly important commodity needed to power electric vehicles, with market share vied for fiercely by the United States, China and Europe. Demand in the years ahead is expected to spike substantially for the mineral, which extends battery range and hastens charging.

The mineral is primarily mined in the conflict-riddenCongo but companies have pulled out of the country due to reports of human rights abuses and child labor in the mining sector.

For some, Morocco was supposed to solve those supply chain concerns. To great fanfare, BMW pivoted away from Congo in 2019, announcing it would source its cobalt in Morocco and Australia while seeking to improve conditions in the central African nation.

The German manufacturer said in a statement this week that it had spoken about the new allegations to Managem, which denied wrongdoing. The company said its environmental and social standards were integral to all of its contracts with suppliers.

"We take potential breaches extremely seriously and investigate them," the company said.

Renault, another European carmaker with a deal to mine cobalt at Bou Azzer, told AFP that it would start purchasing from the mine in 2025 and planned independent audits between now and then. The company did not reply to a request for comment.