Mining Impact Coalition of Wisconsin   Mining Impact Coalition of Wisconsin

Nicolet Minerals Owner, BHP, Spilled Cyanide at Two U.S. Mines
Research Finds 31 Spills of Hazardous Materials at BHP Mines in U.S.

NEWS RELEASE
January 14, 2002   For immediate release
Contact: Dave Blouin, Coordinator, 608-233-8455
P.O. Box 55372 Madison, WI 53705-9172
ph.608-233-8455 email: burroak15@aol.com

The owner of the proposed Crandon mine was responsible for 31 spills of hazardous materials including cyanide, arsenic, and sulfuric acid during a four-year span at three mining operations in Nevada and Arizona. Nicolet Minerals Company (NMC) is owned by BHP Billiton, the company formed by the merger last year of Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP), Australia's largest company and South African/U.K miner Billiton. NMC is now attempting to get permits for the Crandon mine proposal. Research by the Mining Impact Coalition found records of hazardous materials spills by (BHP) in state and federal databases. (See attached chart for spill details)

"In a span of less than four years, BHP spilled cyanide twice, caused a major mine waste spill that damaged Pinto Creek in Arizona, and caused 28 more spills of hazardous materials," Blouin said. "Since Nicolet Minerals Co. (NMC) has never operated a mine, we must look to its parent company, BHP, for information. NMC's claim - that it can safely handle cyanide at Crandon - isn't credible when you look at BHP's track record with hazardous materials and mine wastes. This is the track record of a chronic polluter, not a responsible corporate citizen."

BHP spilled 1,500 gallons of sodium cyanide at its Pinto Valley mine in Arizona in September 1996. At the same mine, BHP caused an immense mine waste tailings spill in October 1997 that covered three quarters of one mile of Pinto Creek and resulted in fines totaling $558,000. Clean up costs were projected to be over $30 million.

At its Robinson mine in Nevada, BHP spilled 2,000 gallons of sodium cyanide process solution in June 1996. The Robinson mine used conventional milling and ore flotation to produce ore concentrates to be refined off-site. This type of ore processing is the same as is proposed for use at the Crandon mine.

At BHP's San Manuel mining operations in Arizona, twenty-seven spills of sulfuric acid, arsenic, copper, and mining wastes were recorded from April 1996 to November 2000. Twenty-three of these spills were of sulfuric acid and total more than 245,000 pounds.

Outside of the U.S., BHP's track record includes the Ok Tedi copper/gold mine in Papua New Guinea. After a tailings dam failed in 1984, BHP began dumping 80,000 tons of mine wastes directly into the Ok Tedi river daily, impacting 30,000 downstream landowners dependent on subsistence farming and fishing.


HAZARDOUS MATERIAL SPILLS AT BHP MINING OPERATIONS

 

 

PINTO VALLEY MINE, MIAMI, ARIZONA
DATE MATERIAL SPILLED AMOUNT SPILLED

9/18/96

Sodium Cyanide

1,500 gallons./13,075 lbs.

10/22/97

Mine Waste-Tailings Dam Failure[1]

Approx. 100,000 tons/1-1.5 million cu. ft.

 

ROBINSON MINE, RUTH, NEVADA
DATE MATERIAL SPILLED AMOUNT SPILLED

6/6/96

Sodium Cyanide Process Solution

2,000 gallons

8/15/96

Mill Process Water

5,000 gallons

 

SAN MANUEL OPERATIONS, SAN MANUEL, ARIZONA
DATE MATERIAL SPILLED AMOUNT SPILLED

4/29/96

Sulfuric Acid

140 gal. / 2,148 lbs.

5/11/96

Sulfuric Acid

500 gal. / 7,670 lbs.

6/12/96

Sulfuric Acid

279 gal. / 4,280 lbs.

6/27/96

Sulfuric Acid

698 gal. / 10,707 lbs.

7/17/96

Sulfuric Acid/Arsenic Leachate

9,000 gal.

8/28/96

Sulfuric Acid

186 gal. / 2,853 lbs.

12/16/96

Refinery Leachate w/Arsenic

500 gal.

5/4/97

Sulfuric Acid

186 gal. / 2,861 lbs.

5/27/97

Sulfuric Acid

186 gal. / 2,853 lbs.

9/10/97

Sulfuric Acid

370 gal. / 5,676 lbs.

9/21/97

Sulfuric Acid

600 gal. / 9,204 lbs.

1/15/98

Sulfuric Acid

678 gal. / 10,046 lbs.

2/26/98

Sulfuric Acid

2,000 gal. / 30,680 lbs.

3/24/98

Sulfuric Acid

353 gal. / 5,000 lbs.

4/27/98

Sulfuric Acid

186 gal. / 2,862 lbs.

5/6/98

Sulfuric Acid

932 gal. / 14,300 lbs.

6/28/98

Sulfuric Acid

933 gal. / 14,308 lbs.

7/7/98

Contaminated Stormwater w/Copper/Sulfuric Acid[2]

576,000 gal.

11/18/98

Sulfuric Acid

186 gal. / 2,862 lbs.

11/24/98

Sulfuric Acid

119 gal. / 1,830 lbs.

12/30/98

Sulfuric Acid

677 gal. / 10,739 lbs.

5/1/99

Sulfuric Acid

138 gal. / 2,117 lbs.

7/11/99

Sulfuric Acid

502 gal. / 7,700 lbs.

9/29/99

Tailings Pond Dust

Unknown amount released

11/21/99

Tailings

�Large Amount� (AZ DEQ)

11/20/00

Wastewater w/Arsenic

9.900 lbs.

11/22/00

Sulfuric Acid

5,000 gal. / 76,600 lbs.

Sources:�������

Arizona Dept. of Environmental Quality, Waste Programs Division

BHP, Annual Reports, 1999, 2000

BHP, Environment and Community Report, 1999

EPA, Sector Facility Indexing Project, Emergency Release Notification System (ERNS) database

Right To Know Network, ERNS database

 

Research by the Mining Impact Coalition of Wisconsin, January 2002



[1] $558,000 in fines were assessed for the 10/22/97 tailings dam failure at Pinto Valley

[2] $18,500 fine assessed, Notice of Violation received.

 

In Wisconsin, BHP was initially denied permits by the Town of Nashville in 1996 to use drilling to explore near the Crandon orebody. BHP then filed a lawsuit threatening each member of the Town zoning board with confiscation of their property and/or wages. The zoning board's decision was overturned and BHP withdrew its lawsuit after gaining permits to drill exploration holes.

Environmental groups and some local governments, tribes and unions oppose the use of cyanide at the site and other potential metallic mines elsewhere in northern Wisconsin, noting that there are less toxic alternative chemicals for processing the ore.

On November 6, 2001, the Wisconsin State Senate approved two mining-related environmental bills by votes of 19-14. Senate Bill 160 would ban cyanide use in all Wisconsin mines. Senate Bill 271 would require "no special treatment" for the regulation of mining by requiring that state hazardous waste laws apply to mine wastes (mining wastes are currently exempt from hazardous waste laws), and by requiring that mining meet the same standards as other activities.

"If this company couldn't run clean mines in Arizona and Nevada, Wisconsin residents won't trust it to mine in the much more sensitive environment of our Northwoods." said Zoltan Grossman of the Wolf Watershed Educational Project. "There is no longer any doubt that this company's claims that it can safely operate in Wisconsin are not to be trusted. Wisconsin residents wouldn't buy a used car from this company, let alone hand it the keys to the Wolf River." Grossman said that the company's poor track record is one reason that the public supports Senate Bill 160 and Senate Bill 271.

"First we proved wrong NMC's misleading claims that there had never been any cyanide-related transportation spills in the U.S. In fact, we found at least 23 spills of cyanide in a ten-year span ending in 1997." Blouin continued, "Now we find that this company's parent has an unacceptable environmental track record in Nevada and Arizona. Since this company couldn't meet environmental standards elsewhere, it cannot be trusted to meet Wisconsin's standards. We must strengthen state mining law to ensure that toxic cyanide is not used at Wisconsin mines."

For background on the cyanide bill, see http://treaty.indigenousnative.org/cyanide.html For more on the Crandon mine proposal, see http://www.treatyland.com Hotline for updates: 800-445-8615

Next up for Wisconsin residents concerned with mining developments is a Mining Legislation Meeting, Monday, Jan. 14, 6:30 p.m. - at the Forester Club, 4001 W. Spencer St, Appleton. Concerned hunters, fishers, and others are invited to discuss two pieces of legislation passed recently by the Wisconsin Senate - SB 160 to ban cyanide in mining and SB 271 to eliminate special treatment for mining. These bills must now be passed by the State Assembly by March 14. Republican State Representatives Terri McCormick and Judy Krawczyk - the authors of the no special treatment for mining bill - are among the area legislators invited to attend the meeting.

The forum is co-sponsored by Wisconsin Stewardship Network, Sierra Club - Fox Valley Group, Wolf Watershed Education Project, and other groups who want to see a safe Wolf River. For more information, contact Jim Wise (715) 453-6015 or Tom Deer (920) 725-6077.