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Water, cyanide and gold mining: 30 years of accidents

Water, cyanide and gold mining: 30 years of accidents

The problem associated with the use of mercury has not been solved with the use of cyanide, because this substance is one of the most powerful poisons that can be used in contact with the environment and can cause irreparable damage to both human health and the environment, because even at low doses it can affect the respiratory system, and the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological, ocular and dermal systems, since in contact with the skin it can be absorbed. Furthermore, inhalation of concentrations of 401 to 601 mg / m³ is fatal to humans. The health effects can last for months or years, and range from cancer risk to reproductive problems, hyperthyroidism, or permanent damage to the nervous system.

A high-risk technology that seeks to be banned in Europe Due to its impacts and risks, for years different initiatives at the European level have sought a total ban on cyanide in mining technologies. There is an already classic resolution of the European Parliament that has been the germ of subsequent initiatives -some, mere copies-, which with greater or lesser success have been presented to the Commission and other bodies at the regional level, P7 TA (2010) 0145, on the prohibition of the use of sodium cyanide in mining technologies.

The approved text does not have the ability to prohibit, but it does strongly recommend that this compound not be used in gold mining, considering that it is "a highly toxic chemical substance", "classified as one of the main pollutants" and that "It can have a catastrophic and irreversible impact on human health and the environment and, therefore, on biological diversity."

It also recalls “that in the last 25 years there have been more than 30 major accidents” and asks “the Commission and the Member States not to provide support, directly or indirectly, to any mining project in the EU in which they are used. cyanide-based mining technologies ”,“ nor support projects of these characteristics in third countries ”, because“ the use of cyanide in mining creates little employment and only for a period of between eight and sixteen years, but it can cause enormous transboundary ecological damage that, in general, they are not repaired by the responsible operating companies, which usually disappear or declare bankruptcy, but by the corresponding State, that is, by the taxpayers ”.

Cyanide and Gold Mining: Three Decades of Accidents

In practice, it is only necessary to go to the newspaper archives to understand why the prohibition of the use of cyanide in mining is a priority, since accidents have been a constant from the 1980s to the present day:

Zortman-Landusky Gold Mine (Montana, United States). Operated by Pegasus Gold Inc. from 1979 to 1998, it was the first to use cyanide on a large scale in gold recovery. Due to the continuous leaks and spills of the compound, the effects on the ecosystem of the affected area were devastating. After the bankruptcy of the mining company, the State of Montana and the Department of the Interior of the United States began a judicial process to obtain the treatment of the contamination of the water by part of the company, as it appeared in the declaration of environmental impact of the draft.

Summitville Gold Mine (Colorado, United States). Operated at more than 3,800 meters of altitude in the San Juan Mountains by Galactic Resources Ltd. from 1986 to 1992. Continual spills of cyanide and toxic metals contributed to serious environmental problems in a stretch of more than 27 kilometers of the Alamosa River, of which The agricultural sector of the San Luis Valley and its cattle ranch are supplied for irrigation, also affecting various species of ducks and grúids in danger of extinction. McCoy / Cove Gold Mine (Nevada, United States). Operated by Echo Bay Company. In 1989 and 1990, a series of eight successive accidents caused a discharge of four tons of cyanide into the environment.

Brewer Gold Mine (South Carolina, United States). Operated by Brewer Gold Company until 1999. In 1990, after a period of heavy rains, more than 40 million liters of cyanide solution and tons of highly contaminated sediment were dumped into Little Fork Creek, endangering the health of the population and the ecosystems. More than 11,000 dead fish were counted over 80 km. from the Lynces River. The costs of the remediation had to be borne by the federal government, and this enclave is currently on the Superfund Sites list, being one of the most contaminated places in the United States.

Grouse Creek Gold Mine (Idaho, United States). Between 1993 and 1997 this mine, currently operated by the Canadian Hecla Mining Company, polluted surface and groundwater by various cyanide discharges, reaching the aquifers and preventing the supply of drinking water to the population.

Omai gold mine (Guyana). Shared by Canadian Cambior Mining and North American Golden Star Resources In 1995, more than 3,200 million liters of cyanidated wastewater was discharged into Guyana's main river, the Essequibo, after the rupture of the containment dam of a mining pond, threatening the life of the inhabitants and the ecosystem, consumers of water and fish resources.

Northparkes Gold Mine (New South Wales, Australia). Co-owned by China Molybdenum Company and Sumitomo Group. In 1995, various cyanide discharges from this gold and copper metalliferous exploitation caused the death of at least 2,700 birds, found in the vicinity of the exploitation area.

Quarry Gold Mine (Nevada, United States). Following the failure of the leaching structure in 1997, more than 927,000 liters of cyanidated wastewater was discharged into two local streams. It is currently owned by mining giant Newmont.

Homestake Gold Mine (South Dakota, United States). In 1998, 6 to 7 tons of cyanide wastes were dumped into Whitewood Creek, poisoning the river course and destroying its biodiversity. It was operated by Homestake Mining Company and co-owned by Barrick Gold. The exploitation was closed in 2002.

Kumtor Gold Mine (Kyrgyzstan). Operated at an altitude of 4,000 meters in the Tien Shan Mountains by Canadian Cencerra Gold Ltd. In 1998, a transport truck on the way to the mine caused a spill of 1,762 kilos of cyanide that reached the Barskaun River. The company did not notify residents of the area, who used the water for human consumption and irrigation, until five hours after the accident. As a result, nearly 2,500 people were poisoned, 850 had to be hospitalized, and there were at least four deaths.

Santa Rosa gold mine (El Corozal, Panama). Operated by the Santa Rosa mining company. In 1998, a cyanide spill poisoned the El Corozal stream, reaching the Corita and Santa María rivers, devastating the area's biodiversity and endangering the supply of drinking water to the Santiago de Veraguas district.

Aurul gold mine (Romania). Operated by the company Remin S.A. and jointly owned by the Romanian government and Australian mining company Esmeralda Exploration Ltd. In 2000, a containment dam at the mine broke, causing an unprecedented ecological and social disaster due to the dumping of more than 100,000 cubic meters of metal sludge. heavy and wastewater with a concentration of 126 mg. of cyanide per liter, exceeding the permitted limit by more than 700 times. The toxic discharge descended by the Lapus river, a tributary of the Somes, later reaching the Tisza in Hungary and the Danube in Serbia and Bulgaria. This accident, which left more than two and a half million people without drinking water supplies, has been considered the worst environmental catastrophe in Europe after the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Tulukuma Gold Mine (Papua New Guinea). Operated by Australia's Allied Gold Mining. In 2000, a company helicopter lost a ton of cyanide in flight, falling in an area 85 km away. from the capital, Port Moresby, affecting a large area of ​​jungle and polluting river courses.

Lihir gold mine (Papua New Guinea). In 2001, this exploitation, operated by Rio Tinto, originated a series of cyanide discharges into the sea, which added to the millions of tons of mine waste dumped within one km. off the coast caused an ecological catastrophe in the marine environment of that area of ​​the Pacific Ocean.

Twin Creeks Gold Mine (Nevada, United States). Operated by Newmont Mining. In 2002, two serious accidents, one involving nearly 6 tons of cyanide and the other involving 230,000 cubic meters of cyanide solution, were publicly known in the Arizona Creek, causing an environmental disaster that has not yet been remedied.

Greenstone / Bonanza gold mine (Nicaragua). Operated by Canada's Hemconic, it caused a cyanide spill in 2003 into the Bambana River. A total of twelve people died, poisoned by consuming the river water. San Andrés gold mine (Honduras). In 2003, when it was operated by the Canadian Greenstone Resources Corporation, it caused a massive cyanide spill polluting the Lara River, a water source in the city of Santa Rosa de Copán. Residents counted more than 18,000 dead fish. The ecosystem was annihilated.

Sankofa gold mine (Ghana). Operated by the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC). Two days of heavy rains in 2004 caused a cyanide spill into the Asasere river, poisoning its waters and with serious effects on aquatic fauna. The company did not have any contingency plan and did not notify the surrounding population of the spill, so the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) closed the operation.


Kalgoorlie gold mine (Australia). Government sources confirmed in 2004 that the mine had numerous problems in the management of cyanide for years, irreparably contaminating the surface and groundwater in the area.

Misima gold mine (Papua New Guinea). Operated by Placer Dome. In 2004 during decommissioning operations, it spilled into the ocean. Thousands of dead fish washed ashore in the region.

Phu Bia gold mine (Laos), operated by the Australian company Pan Australian Resources. In 2005, cyanide leaks contaminated the rivers in the area and poisoned dozens of residents in several kilometers around the complex, who needed medical attention after consuming the water and fish affected by the spills.

Bogoso gold mine (Ghana). Operated by Bogoso Gold Limited. In 2006, a mining pond burst, polluting the waters of the Ajoo River and causing great deaths of fish and crustaceans. About thirty members of the nearby communities were poisoned by consuming water and fish and required urgent medical attention.

Zamboanga Gold Mine (Philippines). Operated by Canada's Toronto Ventures Inc. In 2007 a cyanide waste pond collapsed, poisoning the Siocon River.

North Mara gold mine (Tanzania). Operated by mining giant Barrick Gold. In 2009, the rupture of a mining pond produced a large spill that reached the waters of the Thigithe River. The disaster devastated the ecosystems in the area and killed twenty people. Minosa gold mine (Honduras). Operated by the Minerales de Occidente company. In 2009, the rupture of one of the pipes used in the heap leaching threatened the environment and health of the residents of La Unión, San Andrés Minas and other communities in the Department of Copán when the waters of the Lara River reached the cyanide solution. where hundreds of dead fish appeared.

Arasi de Puno gold mine (Peru). Operated by the Arasi mining company. In 2010, and as a result of the intense rains in the province of Lampa, several cyanide waste pools collapsed, reaching the water courses of the Túpac Amaru, Caichu and Cerro Minas sectors, in the Ocuviri district, affecting the ecosystems and the wild life. It was later learned that the mine lacked a disaster contingency plan. Goldfields gold mine (Ghana). In 2011, the rupture of a mining pond of this South African company (Goldfields Mining) caused a spill of tens of thousands of cubic meters, contaminating the area with cyanide and heavy metals.

Sekisovskoye gold mine (Kazakhstan). Operated by the British mining company Hambledon Mining. In 2011, there was a cyanide spill in one of the containment dams of the waste basin and reaching the Sekisovka River with serious environmental consequences.

Kittilä gold mine (Finland). Operated by the Canadian Agnico Eagle. In 2012, the Finnish MEPs Satu Hassi (Greens / ALE) and Sirpa Pietikäinen (PPE), pointed out in a question with a request for a written reply addressed to the European Commission, the existence of reports indicating the existence of alarming levels of cyanide in their waters. residuals that had exceeded the limits established in the exploitation environmental license.

Mulatos gold mine (Sonora, Mexico). Operated by Minera Peñoles. In 2013, a traffic accident caused the discharge of 16,000 liters of sodium cyanide compound, which reached the waters of the Yaqui River, affecting the water resource and biodiversity. The authorities alerted the residents of the nearby areas not to use the drinking water supply sources and had to enable the urgent assistance of tanker trucks to supply the population.

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