The Papua New Guinea government has sent two health experts to Western Province to investigate reports of deaths and abnormal menstrual bleeding in women living along the Fly River in areas near the Ok Tedi Mine.
The government team will work with a World Health Organisation representative to carry out a full investigation into the reports. It follows growing pressure from Western Province MPs.
The initial reports of abnormal bleeding were included in a much bigger study on health in the area surrounding the mine by the Ok Tedi Development Foundation.
"Out of that came this particular area that said they'd found excessive menstrual bleeding in women," Foundation chief executive Ian Middleton told Pacific Beat.
"There's not been reports to us of any deaths, multiple deaths, or anything like that. They've just said there was a case of menstrual bleeding going on for longer than it normally would do each cycle."
Last week several Western Province MPs demanded the government investigate the reports to find out whether the health of people living near the mine could be suffering due to a basic lack of services, or as a result of any direct impact on their health from the mine itself.
Health Minister Michael Malabag said he was yet to receive a copy of the Ok Tedi Development Foundation report and said he sent his own team of investigators to the region this week.
"We will be deploying two members of the communicable diseases surveillance and mandatory response unit and they'll be also supported in the field by a consultant from the World Health Organisation."
Mr Malabag said the concerns contained within the Ok Tedi Development Foundation report have not been raised more broadly.
He said there was no suggestion at this stage that contamination from the mine was causing problems. But he said a formal investigation was essential to allay public fear and anger.
"The basic facts have to be obtained. As soon as a specific hypothesis is developed in the nature of the public health .... relevant health additional resources can be brought to bear for the problem."
MPs in Western Province have expressed frustration in the PNG media about the delay in learning about health problems identified in the Foundation report.
They have also criticised the Foundation for not sending a medical team to the area to carry out an expert assessment.
Foundation chief executive Ian Middleton said the right target for that criticism was the government.
"We're not responsible for health care in the province, the government is. The government's welcome to respond in whatever matter they like."
But Michael Malabag is unhappy the Foundation did not share its initial report with national Health Department, saying it has delayed the government's own ability to respond.
"I have to leave it until I'm convinced about the actual situation on the ground, then I'll be in a position to advise the prime minister."