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from outside the U.S. : CYANIDE in MINING


June 23, 2005


R�o Negro legislature set to ban cyanide, mercury - Argentina

There is total agreement in the legislative chamber of southern Argentina's R�o Negro province on approving a measure to ban the development of mining projects that use substances such as cyanide and mercury.

"The decision to vote in favor of the bill will be unanimous, given that the government bloc has the majority of votes while the opposition - who number just six - already expressed their rejection of cyanide or mercury in mining projects," Alberto Ricaldoni, a press official for R�o Negro's legislature, told BNamericas.

The measure, which will be discussed and voted on in the chamber on June 30, "has already been signed by the governor [Miguel Saiz] and ratified by all the [province's] ministers so it will need just one reading [debate and vote] in the provincial legislature," Ricaldoni said.

The R�o Negro legislature has only one chamber, rather than a lower and upper house, and bills are normally subject to two rounds of voting. However, in this particular case the bill will be discussed only once as the ministers have already approved it.

Once voting is completed the executive will have 48 hours to promulgate the measure. "It's in their interests to sign it as quickly as possible as they backed it," Ricaldoni said.

Once promulgated the law would oblige companies that hold mineral concessions in the province to adapt their development processes to the new legislation.

When governor Saiz presented the bill he said the initiative "results from my analysis related to recent phenomena in our province regarding increasing permit requests for sampling, exploration and development of metallic mineral deposits."

Saiz recently announced his rejection of the environmental impact study (EIS) for Canadian junior Aquiline Resources' (TSX-V: AQI) Calcatreu gold project in R�o Negro on the grounds that cyanide would be used in the extraction process.

Aquiline has been planning to invest US$43.5mn at Calcatreu to produce 97,000oz/y gold and 580,000oz/y silver at average cash costs of US$191/oz over the first four of the seven-year mine life, according to the company.

In an interview with BNamericas earlier this month, Aquiline VP of exploration Martin Walter said the governor's rejection of the project was due to "electioneering."

Congressional and provincial elections are to be held in Argentina this October, although Saiz himself is due to serve until December 2007 and only two national and no provincial deputies are up for reelection in R�o Negro this year.

Harvey Beltr�n

Mineral Policy Center Protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of mineral development

Bonnie Gestring
Northwest Circuit Rider
Mineral Policy Center/EARTHWORKS
p: 406-549-7361



October 2004

Australian Group Takes Cyanide Debate
to New South Wales (NSW) Parliament


Today, the Lismore based Rainforest Information Centre (RIC) teamed up with the Greens NSW to bring Mining Amendment (Cyanide Leaching) Bill 2004 to Parliament as a matter of urgency. The Government supported the Greens' motion to have the Bill debated.

"Cyanide is lethal," said Ruth Rosenhek, co-Director of RIC. "Its use in gold mining puts humans, precious waterways, flora and fauna seriously at risk as leaks and spills from mines are frequent."

Cyanide Leaching Bill 2004 would prohibit the recovery of gold, silver and other metals by cyanide leaching of ore in new mining projects such as the Cowal Gold project.

"With the Cowal Gold Project now entering its construction phase, an estimated 6000 tonnes of cyanide is scheduled to be transported each year, beginning in early 2005, from Queensland to the edge of Lake Cowal," said Ms. Rosenhek

"For at least 8 years, 25 tonnes of cyanide would be trucked to the site most days of the week. According to the NSW Roads and Transport Authority, on average 1 out of 10 trucks has an accident each year. Clearly this is an unacceptable risk.

"Cyanide leaks and spills and the damage wrought by these accidents has previously been under-reported both in Australia and overseas. Since the year 2000, dozens of incidences involving cyanide leaks and spills have been reported worldwide sometimes wiping out entire river systems as in the case of the Tisza and Danube Rivers in Romania and Hungary."

"These sorts of accidents are just as likely to happen in countries with strong environmental protection measures such as the USA and Australia.

"Despite government assurances that the Timbarra Gold Mine located in western New South Wales was a world best-practice mine, there were overflows from the toxic wastewater ponds into the surrounding creeks on a number of occasions in early 2001.

"There is nothing in place to prevent a tailings pond disaster from occurring at the Cowal Gold Project in the same manner as it did at the Northparkes copper-gold mine (Parkes, NSW) which saw thousands of birds killed in 1995 due to a failure in monitoring cyanide levels.

"In fact, the Cowal Gold Project tailings ponds do not meet Australia's best practice standards which recommends small tailings ponds cells to ensure effective monitoring and emergency management. Not only are the Cowal Gold Project tailings ponds huge (1.3 km x 1.3km), they are situated on a floodplain."

"Cyanide has been banned in the state of Montana which reported 62 spills or leaks of cyanide between the years 1982 and 1998."

Thousands of NSW residents have signed a petition asking for an end to the use of cyanide leaching in gold and silver mining.

The matter was adjourned and the Bill will be debated at the end of October.

For further information, contact Ruth Rosenhek on (02) 66213294 or

Visit for details of Cyanide Bill 2004.




Bans on Cyanide in Mining Around the World

From: "Ruth Rosenhek"
Sent: Thursday, March 07, 2002

1) Montana, USA - a citizen's initiative banned cyanide leaching in gold and silver mining in 1998.

2) Colorado, USA - The Alliance for Responsible Mining working on an State Senate bill to ban the use of cyanide in open pit gold mining.

3) Wisconsin, USA - November 6, 2001-- The Wisconsin State Senate approved two mining-related environmental bills by votes of 19-14: Senate Bill 160 to ban cyanide use in all Wisconsin mines, and Senate Bill 271 to have "No Special Treatment" for the mining industry. The bills now are in the State Assembly for consideration.

4) Turkey, Bergama - Izmir Third Administrative Court in 2002 decided that the gold mine in Bergama should be closed immediately or otherwise the consequences likely to arise due to the hazards of mining cannot be compensated later. A Council of State Ruling in 1998 banned the use of cyanide, for health and environment reasons.

5) Greece - March 2002. The Council of State ruled that the government approval for TVX Gold Inc.'s Olympias gold plant was contrary to the laws and the constitution because : "the environmental devastation which is threatened by the construction and operation of this gold plant is far greater than the projected benefits and violates the principle of sustainable development". The decision was taken by a 20-7 majority.

In March 2002, the Greek Council of State voted to discontinue the TVX project because of its potential environmental impacts. The decision of the Council of State cannot be appealed.

6) Honduras March 2001 Seventy-five people representing 15 communities located adjacent to 8 mines attended a meeting in Honduras to launch a national anti-mining campaign called "Honduras Is Worth More Than Gold." The meeting took place on March 9 and put forward several goals, including the prohibition of the use of cyanide in mining operations, the prohibition the expropriation of campesino and indigenous lands, and the strengthening of mining and environmental laws.

7) Czech Republic - August, 2000 - The Czech Senate voted to ban the use of cyanide heap leach technology in mining.

8) New South Wales, Australia - Bill submitted by the Greens NSW to Parliament to ban cyanide leaching. Awaiting discussion.

9. ) Costa Rica. Work is beginning on banning cyanide in mining.



Illegal Cyanide Dumping Kills Birds
in Northern Territory, Australia

Media Release

Friday 1st March 2002

Answers needed on cyanide dumping

The Environment Centre NT has today called on the NT Government to move swiftly to prosecute and remove operating licences from those responsible for dumping cyanide beside the Tanami Highway.

On February 11th a traditional owner discovered a 400 litre cyanide spill on the Tanami Highway. The spill is reported to have killed at least 500 birds and a dingo. The longer term environmental impacts of the spill are unclear at this stage.

The Environment Centre�s Mark Wakeham said today:
"It is critical that the NT Government takes swift action action to prosecute whoever is responsible for dumping the cyanide solution and ensure that their licence to operate is revoked. We are extremely concerned that the investigation seems to be proceeding slowly and that to date no charges have been laid. The Government needs to send a strong message to the community and to the mining industry that it will not tolerate environmental vandalism."

"Furthermore the Environment Centre believes that the incident is another example of the need to ban the use of cyanide in gold mining. While the industry argues it is possible to use cyanide safely, cyanide leaks and spills from gold mines throughout the world continue to prove otherwise. The Baia Marie gold mine spill in Romania by Australian company Esmeralda in February 2000 killed almost all aquatic life in the upper reaches of the Tisza and Szamos rivers. Closer to home fish kills in the Edith river occurred in 1999 as a result of cyanide contaminated water overflowing from the tailings dam at the Mt Todd mine. This week traditional owners have again expressed concern about contaminated water leaking into the Edith River from the abandoned Mt Todd site."

"The mining industry needs to develop alternatives to using cyanide. The NT Government however must safeguard the public interest and the environment from mining �accidents� by banning the use of cyanide and finding those responsible for the Tanami incident and revoking their licence to operate."

For further information or comment contact: Mark Wakeham 08 8981 1984 or 0412 853 641.

Kirsten Blair and Mark Wakeham
Environment Centre of the Northern Territory
Unit 3/98 Woods Street, Darwin, 0800
GPO Box 2120, Darwin, 0801
ph: (08) 8981 1984  fax: (08) 8941 0387  mob: 0412 853 641
Check our our new website:


In March 2002, the Greek Council of State voted to discontinue the TVX project because of its potential environmental impacts. The decision of the Council of State cannot be appealed.



Mineral Policy Center
Site Report from Olympias, Greece
By Dr. Robert Moran, Ph.D.
April 18, 2001

Dr. Robert Moran, is a geochemical and hyrdrogeological consultant with more than 29 years experience in the mining sector. Dr. Moran is currently in Greece, at the invitation of citizens in Olympias, to provide technical and scientific support.

Mineral Policy Center (MPC) is a non-profit research and advocacy organization dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of mining.

MPC has published this paper in order to provide Dr. Moran's observations on the situation unfolding in Olympias, Greece. Community leaders in Olympias are seeking to protect their environment and way of life from the impacts of a proposed industrial-scale gold mine, one that would use cyanide to process the ore.

The background information was provided by MPC. The opinions expressed in the body of the site report are those of the author.

Last week a Greek court, the Council of State, ruled against a gold mine proposed by TVX Gold Inc. of Canada due to the mine's environmental risks. The mining company proposed to use cyanide to process low-grade gold ore. According to press reports, the nation's highest administrative court ruled 20-7 that risks from cyanide processing of gold outweighs the potential economic benefits. The court's decision has not yet been published, but observers expect that it will be made official in the near future.

For several years, community leaders near the proposed mine, 40 miles east of Thessaloniki, Greece, have fought the development of the gold mine. They are concerned that cyanide spills and pollution from heavy metals such as arsenic could impact water resources and agriculture. Concerned citizens organized a months-long blockade of the mine site. They argued before the Council of State that the cyanide used in the gold processing and the arsenic created as a byproduct would endanger the environment.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that, in response to the court's ruling, workers at a Greek subsidiary of TVX Gold Inc. blocked a road leading to the village of Lerissos. According to the report, supporters of the mine project threatened to "crush" opponents of the project. In a statement they claimed, "We are determined to crush... anyone who dares, from now on, to be an obstacle in the realization of this investment."

Gold mines using the cyanide extraction process have had a number of devastating environmental spills in recent years including in Colorado (USA), Kyrgyzstan, Guyana, and Romania. The spill in Romania devastated a 250-mile stretch of the Danube River in Europe. Public outcry over the impacts of cyanide process gold mines has led to growing citizen pressure to ban the technology. In Montana in the United States, the process is banned at all new mines and mine expansions. In the Czech Republic, in the aftermath of the spill in Romania, the legislature passed a similar cyanide ban.

In a recent Issue Paper published by Mineral Policy Center ("More Cyanide Uncertainties, Lessons from the Baia Mare, Romania Spill�Water Quality and Politics, MPC Issue Paper #3), Dr. Robert Moran described the risks associated with the cyanide process and documents many of the scientific and technical uncertainties.

In that paper, Dr. Moran, who has worked directly with the community leaders in Greece and is currently in the country, expressed concerns regarding the lack of adequate information, regulation, and testing of mines that use cyanide. In referring to forms of cyanide and related compounds in water he stated, "many aspects of the geochemical behavior and toxicity of such complex mixtures are poorly known."

In the view of MPC, more and more communities will reject mines that use cyanide extraction technology. Communities will reject them for the same reason that the Greek Council of State did, for the same reasons that the citizens of Montana did: cyanide process mines are too great a threat to water resources, fish, and the livelihoods of those who live and work near these mines. This remains true whether the mine is in Montana, Greece, or Kyrgyzstan.

MPC's Issue Paper, "More Cyanide Uncertainties, Lessons from the Baia Mare, Romania Spill�Water Quality and Politics, MPC Issue Paper #3, is available at http;//

Observations from Olympias, Greece Last week the highest court in Greece ruled in favor of local citizens who are opposed to the operation of a proposed gold mine and mill at the town of Olympias in northern Greece. The citizens argued that the project would create lasting environmental impacts due to the production of toxic wastes, and that the existing facilities were never adequately permitted.

The Oympias mine is owned by TVX Hellas SA, a subsidiary of the Canadian mining company, TVX Gold Inc.

This ruling has dealt a serious blow to what was to be the largest investment of foreign private funds in Greece in the last 50 years. Numerous Greek business sources have described this decision as an economic disaster, saying that it will drive away international investors, and that Greece will remain an economic backwater. The situation, however, may also be seen as a progressive move by the Greek courts, one intended to encourage parts of the economy to modernize. Clearly the Greek courts have become aware that, wherever economies are predominantly dependent on mining, they have the characteristics of developing countries---even in the U.S.

The TVX mining situation is also a microcosm of many aspects of "globalization," and its environmental consequences�the kind politicians and international financial institutions such as the World Bank prefer to avoid discussing publicly.

North American observers may need to be reminded that Greece only became a full economic member of the European Union in January 2001. Also, one glance at a map reveals that Greece is totally separated from the other EU member countries by the northern Balkans. It has the lowest per capita income and lowest labor costs of all the EU countries.In the past, many of the costs of operating a mine were subsidized by the State, yet no taxes were, or are, paid to the local or regional governments.

Ground and surface waters in parts of the Olympias area have already been contaminated by past mining activities�some of which started 2500 years ago. Tailings wastes from the nearby Stratoni site, now also operated by TVX, used to be dumped directly into the sea. Commercial fishing near Stratoni is prohibited for a distance of one nautical mile from the shore. The existing tailings impoundments at both TVX operations are unlined. Local ores contain very high sulfide concentrations, often in the form of arsenic-rich pyrite, which means that the dangers of acid drainage are real.

Despite these conditions, little water quality data is available. Does an environmental problem exist? If citizens wish to answer this question, they must pay to collect and analyze their own samples. As is usual in mining matters, the legal and environmental complaints in Olympias were pushed forward through the efforts of private citizens, essentially unassisted by government authorities.

Fresh water is scarce in most of the coastal areas, and mining will compete for and degrade the quality of this already scarce resource. Hence, many of the folk of this agriculturally rich area want to break the cycle of pollution and economic reliance on mining. Future resource conflicts are likely to center on water supply issues rather than the need for mining.

But the government and TVX have chosen to keep the public in the dark about the mine's potential impacts on water supply and quality. The citizens opposed to the Olympias operations claim that few studies with any valid data or substance have been made public. I have not been shown any studies that would be useful in quantifying baseline water quality or the chemical contents of the tailings, for example. Such studies may have been performed, but they have not been made available to the general public. Thus, it is not possible to truly evaluate the baseline situation. Is this how a mining company is allowed to operate in TVX's home country, Canada, or in the other EU countries?

Months prior to the recent court decision, the Ministry of Environment and Public Works ruled that TVX should be fined 12 billion drachmas, or about $31.6 million for not having construction permits for the tailings impoundments in Olympias and an active mine site at Stratoni. However, these fines have not yet been enforced. Why? For this most sensitive environmental task, enforcement falls to the regional planning department in Arnea, a town of between 3,000 and 5,000 inhabitants, in the mountains about 75 km southeast of Thessaloniki.

Consider the situation of this regional planning department. It has four technical staff responsible for issuing construction permits, primarily for homes and other buildings. Most have been trained as architects. Here they are required to approve permits for tailings impoundments. Note that they do not normally conduct independent inspections of any construction. None of the staff has specific training in any mining disciplines, and certainly not in mine facilities construction or mining chemical matters. They are aware that these wastes contain metals, but they have no information or experience that would allow them to know that the wastes contain high concentrations of arsenic, copper, lead, cadmium, manganese, zinc, sulfate, and probably cyanide decomposition products, as a minimum. Importantly, the budget does not include any funds to provide legal support for staff activities.

This department has never confronted such an enforcement situation, related to a mine site, before. It's nothing like construction of an apartment or home. Their superiors in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, have informed the department that approval must come from Athens. However, months ago they were directed by the judge and the head of the Ministry to enforce the fines. If they do, they may be sued by TVX-Hellas. Of course, the planning department has no routine legal support. So, they are forced to delay.

It has been raining off and on near Olympias for days. What would happen if an earthquake were to occur on top of these wet conditions? Is it too perverse to imagine such a scenario in a region where some of the local towns were leveled by earthquakes as recently as 1932? The metal-laden tailings would be released into the nearby rivers and towns. Who would be held legally responsible? The Arnea regional planning department, of course! While Greek law requires that construction permits be obtained, the regional planning department never required that TVX obtain the permits, because their superiors didn't request that they be required. Thus, these operations have technically been illegal.

On top of everything else, the department has also received implied threats of violence if the fines are imposed.

Most of the TVX workers have just been told they are to be laid-off. They have been told that citizen-activists are the cause. Conveniently, the environmental practices of their company are neglected. So, today they have blocked the roads leading into and out of the towns where their citizen opponents live. They threaten to maintain these blockades into the summer when the tourists would normally arrive. It appears, once again, that local citizens are being presented with a simple black and white choice: accept this huge foreign-financed project, the few jobs it will create, and the inevitable long-term environmental impacts, or be considered unfriendly to foreign investment and "unmodern."

Dr. Robert Moran
18 April 2001
Olympia, Greece

Contact Information:

Steve D'Esposito
Mineral Policy Center
1612 K Street N.W. #808, Washington D.C. 20006
Phone: 202-887-1872, Fax: 202-887-1875
Email:, Web:

Dr. Robert Moran
501 Hess Avenue, Lookout Mountain, Colorado 80401
Phone: 303-526-1405, Fax: 303-526-2678



Mineral Policy Center, Washington D.C.
Contact: Chris Cervini, 202.887.1872 x 207
Stephen D'Esposito 202.422.8991
1612 K St., NW, Suite 808, Washington, D.C. 20006
202-887-1872 (ph) 202-887-1875 (fax) email:

Move Comes Months After Deadly Cyanide Spill Killed All Aquatic Life in 250-mile Stretch of Danube River

(August 11, 2000) - The Czech Senate on Wednesday voted to ban the use of cyanide heap leach technology in mining. The ban comes in the wake of the deadly cyanide spill in Romania in late January that was considered to be the world's worst ecological disaster since the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown. In that spill, 3.5 million cubic feet of mine waste contaminated with cyanide and heavy metals was released into a tributary of the Danube River from a gold mine operated by Australia's Esmeralda Exploration. That disaster killed all aquatic life in a 250-mile stretch of the Danube.

Cyanide heap leach technology is the standard technology of the gold mining industry. It involves the spraying of cyanide-laced solution over ore heaps. Cyanide acts as an agent to separate the rock from gold.

There are dozens of active gold mines in the U.S. that use the cyanide heap leach process. There are hundreds more abandoned mines in the U.S. that used the process and continue to emit high levels of pollution.

The problem prompted the citizens of Montana to pass an initiative banning the process at new mines. Citizens in several other states including Colorado and Wisconsin are considering such initiatives. Internationally, citizen opposition has blocked this mining technique in the Pergamon region of Turkey. [Note: a similar ban is being considered in the Australian state of New South Wales--site of the 2000 Summer Olympics--ed.]

"This action should be a wake-up call for the industry," said Mineral Policy Center President Stephen D'Esposito. "The public's allergy to cyanide used in gold mines will continue to spread until mining companies demonstrate that they can mine responsibly, in a manner that protects our rivers and our ecosystems."

The Czech Senate's cyanide-ban clause has made it through several steps of the legislative process and can not be affected any more.

Mineral Policy Center Protecting Communities and the Environment




From Cyanide Uncertainties, 1998, Mineral Policy Center

(Outside the U.S.)

Kyrgyzstan: On May 20,1998, a truck transporting cyanide to the Kumtor mine in Kyrgyzstan , Central Asia, plunged off a bridge, spilling almost two tons of sodium cyanide (1,762 kilograms) into local surface waters.

Guyana: In 1995, more than 860 million gallons of cyanide-laden tailings were released into a major river in Guyana, South America, when a dam collapsed at Cambior mining company's Omai gold mine.

Spain: A dam at the Los Frailes zinc mine in southern Spain ruptured in April 1998, releasing an estimated 1.3 billion gallons of acid, metal-laden tailings into a major river and over adjacent farm lands. While news reports of the associated massive fish kill did not mention cyanide or related compounds in the wastes, their presence seems likely given the metals extracted at this site.

Romania, January 15, 2000 Some additional statistics about the Aural gold mine, Baia Mare, Romania:
The BBC has reported that as much as 650 tons of dead fish had been pulled from the Tisza and Danube rivers and that many tons more were expected to be found on the bottom of them. Future risks to the rivers remain due to the large amount of other toxic heavy metals that likely spilled with the cyanide. Biologists are estimating that at least 5 years is needed to restock fish there, and 10-20 years for most river life to return. The upper Tisza was one of Europe's cleanest rivers and was home to at least 20 speicies of protected fish. Rare Osprey, river otters, fox, many other birds, mammals and wildlife are known to have died from ingesting poisoned fish.

Romania, January 19, 2001
InfoBeat - Cyanide eyed in Romania fish deaths
Bucharest, Romania (AP) - Thousands of dead fish were found floating Thursday in a river in northeastern Romania which had high levels of cyanide, private television Pro-TV reported. The incident was reported on the Siret River near Lespezi, a town about 210 miles northeast of Bucharest. Authorities found cyanide 130 times the accepted levels in a tributary of the Siret, the private news agency Mediafax reported. Locals were warned not to eat the fish. Two girls were hospitalized with food poisoning after eating the fish.
"It is an imminent danger to public health," said Nicolae Ivanciu, a county official. There were conflicting reports on where the cyanide came from.
A cyanide spill last year near Baia Mare in northwestern Romania discharged 130,000 cubic yards of cyanide-tainted water from a gold mine reservoir into river systems in Romania, Hungary and Yugoslavia. The incident has been described as Europe's worst river pollution disaster in a decade.


Sources available on request. Contact Dave Blouin, Mining Impact Coalition,
608-233-8455, or email,


Cyanide mining is efficient but a hazard to the environment

Some places don't control mine wastes properly, experts say. That may have been true in Romania's recent spill.

By Mark Jaffe
Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 15, 2000

Cyanide has been a boon to the mining industry, but a bane to the environment, not only in Eastern Europe - where a spill of cyanide at a Romanian gold mine last week devastated aquatic life in the Tisza and Danube rivers - but in South America and the United States, too.

Cyanide is a naturally occurring and extraordinarily toxic substance. It is the active ingredient in the pellet dropped into prison gas chambers. Its chemistry also makes it highly efficient in separating gold from ore.

"It is so efficient that it has enabled mining companies to go back to old, played-out mines," said Stephen D'Esposito, an analyst with the Mineral Policy Center, a Washington-based environmental group that monitors mining. "With cyanide you can efficiently extract very small amounts of gold from a large volume of ore," D'Esposito explained.

Cyanide has been used to extract gold from crushed rock for more than 100 years. Modern methods that mix cyanide compounds in a water-based solution can recover nearly 100 percent of the gold, making it profitable for mining companies to process lower-grade ores.

In the last decade, cyanide mining technology spread around the world. In the United States, more than 100 million pounds of cyanide are used annually in mining, causing problems in Colorado and Idaho. Two years ago, after a series of small cyanide spills, residents in Montana voted to ban cyanide mining in the state. Elsewhere, though, cyanide mining is growing. Miners use either sodium cyanide or potassium cyanide. Potassium cyanide is used in gas chambers.

"The problem is that in some places there simply aren't adequate environmental controls or attention to best engineering practices," said an official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Esmeralda Exploration, an Australian mining company, was using cyanide at the Aural mining smelter in Baia Mare, Romania. A waste pool dike at the facility apparently broke, sending cyanide wastes into streams that flow into the Tisza River, a tributary of the Danube.

"The problem is that we don't know whether that waste pool really met industry standards," said D'Esposito.

The Romanian incident is not unique. In 1998, a truck carrying cyanide to the Kumtor Mine in Kyrgyzstan spilled two tons of the chemical into the Barskaun River. There was a massive fish kill and two reported human deaths. The tourist trade in the nearby hot-spring-fed Lake Issyk-Kul also was hurt. The mining company in this incident was a major Canadian firm Cameco Corp.

In 1995, Guyana suffered a major cyanide spill - more than 825 million gallons - that polluted a 50-mile stretch of the Essequibo River. The cyanide escaped from a waste pond at the Omai Gold Mines Ltd. The pond leaked for five days. The Omai mine was owned by Cambior Inc., a Canadian company, and Golden Star Resources Ltd., a subsidiary of Denver-based Invesco PLC.

"What we see happening," one U.S. official said, "is money being raised on the international markets for these ventures and then a quick hit going in to get some gold."

Under the best technology, much of the cyanide is recaptured. Remaining wastes, including cyanide traces and heavy metals such as arsenic, nickel and lead - all of which are toxic - are supposed to be stored in secure waste ponds.

"Those ponds are supposed to be able to withstand heavy rains and snows," said D'Esposito. "Apparently that was the problem in Romania."

But even in the United States, which has tougher environmental rules, cyanide mining is a problem. The abandoned Summitville Mine, in Summitville, Colo., was found to be leaking cyanide into the Alamosa River, and the EPA has spent $170 million over eight years to clean up the site.

In Idaho, the U.S. Forest Service is taking emergency action to stop cyanide form leaking out of waste ponds at the Heleca Mining Co.'s Grouse Creek Mine. The cyanide was leaking into Jordan Creek, which the Forest Service said was a critical habitat for chinook salmon.

While its immediate impacts are severe, cyanide's effects dissipate quickly once pollution is stopped.

"It does not hang around like DDT, PCBs or oil," said Richard Horowitz, a senior biologist with the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences.

While it might kill fish and bottom-dwelling animals such as worms and snails, cyanide does not build up in the food chain. It either becomes a gas or is broken down by microbes.

"Once it is gone from a flowing river," Horowitz said, "you can anticipate fish and other life coming back very soon."


A History Of Accidents

(Outside the U.S.)

* Ten miners were killed when a disused slime dam at the Harmony mine in South Africa, operated by Randgold, burst its banks and buried a housing complex in cyanide-laced mud in Feburary 1994.

* More than 3.2 billion litres of cyanide-laden tailings were released into Essequibo river in Guyana when a dam collapsed at the Omai gold mine in August 1995. Studies by the Pan American Health Organization have shown that all aquatic life in the 4 kilometer long creek that runs from the mine to the Essequibo has been killed.

* On May 20, 1998, a truck transporting cyanide to the Kumtor mine in Kyrgyzstan plunged off a bridge spilling 1762 kilograms of sodium cyanide into local surface waters. Local people have reported at least 4 deaths that may have resulted from the spill. Hundreds of people also checked into local hospitals complaining of health problems following the spill.

* In April 1998 a dam at the Los Frailes zinc mine in southern Spain ruptured and released an estimated 1.3 billion gallons of acid, metal-laden tailings into a major river and over adjacent farmlands. While news reports of the associated massive fish kill did not mention cyanide or related compounds in the wastes, their presence seems likely given the metals extracted at this site.

* On March 21, 2000, the Australian mining company Dome Resources contaminated an important water system in the Papua New Guinea rainforest. While flying from the capital Port Moresby to the Tolukuma mine, a Dome helicopter dropped a crate containing one tonne of sodium cyanide pellets the most concentrated form of cyanide into the rainforest.

Update on Australian cyanide ban campaign in
New South Wales (1/27/01):

Here in New South Wales, the NSW Greens have submitted a Bill to parliament and it awaits discussion which will occur sometime in the next 3-9 months. It is highly highly unlikely that this Bill will pass given who is currently holding the power in the government, so we are happy for the discussion period to be held off as long as possible so that we can keep lobbying and use this as leverage to raise more awareness about gold mining.

Meanwhile, we're about to do a push to move the campaign into the international sphere by asking folks around the world to take it up.

For the Earth, Ruth Rosenhek.

Rainforest Information Centre
Box 368, Lismore, NSW 2480





The Ok Tedi mine is infamous for its massive cyanide contamination; BHP Billiton was forced to close it, but is closing it in a way that avoids environmental responsibility for the cyanide disaster. See background at the Mineral Policy Institute (Australia) at


November 26, 2001
Media Release From Port Moresby & Sydney:

Landowners blockade BHP's rat run from Ok Tedi A group of women and children landowners have shut down operations at BHP Billiton's Ok Tedi Mine in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The landowners have staged a sit-down, blocking a bridge leading to the mine site, allowing mine workers to leave but not to enter the site. They have been protesting for two days over legislation apparently designed to absolve BHP of it's liability for environmental damage.

Damage from the mine is extremely severe and will last for the better part of this century. It is destroying food, fisheries and the forests on which people living along the Fly River rely.

The BHP Billiton/ PNG government agreement seems designed to absolve the company of responsibility arising from its polluting Ok Tedi mine. Costs are effectively limited to forgoing the mine's future profits by divesting BHP's share in the mine.

Four landowner leaders wrote a letter to Members of Parliament on Friday warning that if legislation setting the scene for BHP Billiton's liability-free exit from Ok Tedi was passed, they would shut down the mine. The legislation was expected to come before Parliamaent at this session. It is believed the legislation will exempt BHP from all liability from future damage by the mine's operations.

"BHP owes a lot more than that to the PNG people. People are demanding just and fair compensation, but BHP has resorted to court to avoid these obligations in the past." said Mr. Wep Kanawi, OBE, spokesperson for peak PNG NGO Environmental Watch Group.

Speaking from Port Moresby, Mr Kanawi commented: "BHP has adopted another painful silence. They're not informing the community or the government of their pull-out plans. "

There's talk of a foundation to be based in Singapore - out of the reach of further protests - but no details," Mr Kanawi continued.� "There's talk of a line of credit - but will there be hard cash to solve their environmental legacy? BHP owes it to the people of this country to make it's plan clear, but BHP has never been truthful and transparent over Ok Tedi. The problem of the mine is a public one, so the solution should be too. Sadly, it's still the old BHP", he concluded.

"This spontaneous blockade by women and children demonstrates the anger in PNG at BHP's morally bankrupt plan to avoid responsibility for the environmental disaster they have created," said� Igor O'Neill, spokesperson for Sydney-based mining watchdog The Mineral Policy Institute. "These people are standing in the way of BHP's desparate flight from the scene of their environmental crime."

For further comment: Igor O'Neill, Mineral Policy Institute, Australia: 0405 325 897
Mr Wep Kanawi, NEWG, Papua New Guinea: (675) 323 0699

Igor O'Neill Mineral Policy Institute
Mobile +61 (0) 405 325 897 Office +61 (0) 2 9387 5540



Cyanide Spill Ghana's Worst Environmental Disaster

By Mike Anane

ACCRA, GHANA, October 24, 2001 (ENS) - Villages in the Wassa West District of Ghana's western region have been hit by the spillage of thousands of cubic metres of mine wastewater contaminated with cyanide and heavy metals. The cyanide-laced waste contaminated the River Asuman on October 16 when a tailings dam ruptured at a mine operation owned by the South African company, Goldfields. Hundreds of dead fish, crabs and birds can be seen littering the banks of the river. Others float on the surface of the river which is the only source of drinking water for surrounding villages. Virtually all life forms in the river and its tributaries have been decimated, and people's livelihoods are endangered. Scientists fear the cyanide and heavy metal residue from the spill could remain for decades posing a health and environmental threat to the people and wildlife in the area.

(Environment News Service, October 24, 2001) For full text and graphics visit:

FIAN, the international human rights organisation for the right to feed oneself, has received the information that a second cyanide spillage has occured in Ghana only two weeks after a major accident in the Wassa West District of Ghana. Mike Anane from Ghana who is the Head of the FIAN Coordination Ghana is reporting about it.


By Mike Anane

Barely 2 weeks after Ghana was hit by a major cyanide spillage, there has been another case of cyanide spillage into a marshland at a village called Kubekro near Wassa Akyempim in the Wassa Mpohor East District of Ghana's Western Region and this time SATELLITE GOLDFIELDS Limited is at the centre of the controversy.

Hosting a spectacular array of plant and animal species, the swamps provide the local people with mud fish, local medicines and bamboo for a wide range of uses.

A source at the country's Environmental Protection Agency said the incident occured on Sunday 28th October at 8pm and they notified residents in the area the next day Monday at 10pm.

In an interview, Mr. Senkyire, Chief Director of the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology confirmed the incident and disclosed that " relevant emergency response procedures like detoxification of the cyanide are being implemented and the inhabitants have been cautioned to stay away from the area". He further disclosed that the EPA officer at Tarkwa has been despatched to the scene to monitor the situation and liaise with the EPA Head Office for further directives.

When the Head office of the Satellite Goldfields Limited in Accra was contacted, Sally Susu, Office Manager said she could neither confirm nor deny the incident, "the Managing Director has left for the area, please call him on his Satellite phone" she said.

On Tuesday 16th October 2001, a major disaster hit Abekoase, Huni village and a number of Villages in Tarkwa in Ghana's Western Region when several thousands of cubic metres of waste water contaminated with Cyanide was spilled into river Asuman when a tailings dam at a mine operation owned by the South African company GOLDFIELDS Limited ruptured. Hundreds of fish, crabs and birds were killed in this incident.

Meanwhile angry villagers say they are preparing for a massive demonstration to protest at the wanton destruction of their sources of drinking water and livelihood by Gold Mining Companies in the area.

"These people are destroying the environment and depriving us of our water and food, and nobody is telling them to stop. GOLDFIELDS spilled Cyanide into our river and now its SATELLITE Goldfields, these mining companies are having a field day at our expense" an angry resident fumed.



Eleven tonnes of cyanide spills into Chinese river

Brought to you by the Herald and The Age newsrooms

BEIJING, Nov 5 AFP - Thousands of soldiers have been mobilised to contain a massive cyanide spill in a river in central China which is posing a health risk to local residents and farm animals, officials said today.

Eleven tonnes of liquid sodium cyanide began leaking into a tributary of the Luohe river in Henan province over the weekend after a traffic accident on Thursday, an official with the Luoning county government said.

Soldiers had erected two dams around the contaminated area, measuring four kilometres in length, she said.

"At present the spill is contained and there is no danger of the contamination seeping into the Luohe river."

The Luohe river is a shallow tributary of the Yellow River, the cradle of Chinese civilisation and a major waterway in northern China.

As little as 0.3 grams of the chemical is enough to kill an adult, the China Daily reported, adding that so far only one person had been poisoned.

The barrages around the spill appeared to have been made of sand and gravel dumped from trucks.

Soldiers had also dumped 500 tonnes of disinfectants into the contaminated area in an effort to disperse the poison, the report said.

Local media said the cyanide had been restricted to "a few kilometres of the river", while water in the lower reaches was "not seriously polluted".

Investigations into the cause of the accident and spillage were underway, while six people suspected of causing the incident had been arrested, the China Daily said.

Officials did not say why the cyanide was being transported. The bulk of sodium cyanide worldwide is used in the mining industry, as a means of extracting gold and silver from rock.


China River Poisoned by Cyanide Spill

The Associated Press
Nov. 5, 2001

BEIJING (AP) - Tons of deadly cyanide leaked into a river in central China after a truck overturned, state media and local officials said Monday. Animals were poisoned and at least one person sickened by contamination.

The truck carrying 11 tons of liquid sodium cyanide overturned Thursday on a rutted road along a tributary of the Luohe River, said a county government official in Luoning, Henan province, about 500 miles southwest of Beijing.

Henan authorities erected a pair of dams to contain the spill, said the official, who gave only his surname, Yang. One man fell ill after he ate sweet potatoes washed in contaminated water. Yang said the man has now recovered.

The truck driver, who fled after the accident, has been detained, Yang said. A representative from a gold mine that bought the cyanide and four other men are also being held, he said. Mines use cyanide to extract metals from ore.

Yang said the river flows into the Luohe, which provides drinking water to the industrial city of Luoyang. But the Luohe hasn't been contaminated, he said.

Police and soldiers poured tons of bleach and calx, similar to lime, into the river to soak up the spill, said a local environmental protection official.

The official China Daily newspaper said livestock animals were killed by the contamination but gave no details.

Results from 11 water testing stations showed that contamination was limited to just a few miles of river between the two containment dams, the newspaper said.



Globalization and the 2000 cyanide disaster


Dead in the Water

by Donella H. Meadows
February 14, 2000

Here's a story of the global economy at its worst and maybe also at its best.

Early this month a cry of alarm came over email from my friend Zoltan Lontay in Hungary. The Hungarian news had just announced an enormous fish kill in the Szamos river on that country's eastern border. A wave of cyanide was moving down the Szamos and into the Tisza, Hungary's second largest river. No one knew what had happened, but there was talk of a mine, operated by an Australian company, across the border in Romania -- a mine that uses cyanide.

Zoltan's message went out to a discussion list of over 100 friends all over the world. Replies bounced back, a guess that it must be a gold mine using cyanide heap leach technology, reports of similar disasters in other parts of the world. Philip Sutton in Australia said he would find out which Australian mining companies operate in Romania.

By February 8, Zoltan had more information. It was indeed a gold mine, of the modern sort that allows even very dilute gold deposits to be extracted from tons of rock economically. The rock is dug, crushed, and piled in heaps, through which cyanide drips to leach out the gold. The tricky part is what then to do with the cyanide. In Romania it was dumped into an above-ground pool held by an earth dam.

Zoltan wrote:

Though the poison in the pool was enough to kill a million people, the authorities neglected to keep it inspected. On January 30 the dam collapsed. Within half a day cyanide concentrations in the Szamos reached 150-300 times the safe level. Life in the river was exterminated, from fish to plankton.

Several hundred thousand people live in the danger zone. No drinking, fishing, or water extraction from the river or from wells along the river is allowed. The city of Szolnok on River Tisza is distributing bottled water, five liters per family per day. Food industries and paper mills have shut down.

For more than 24 hours the polluting company did not report the incident. People in Romania learned about it only from the Hungarian media. A fine of $160 was imposed on the company for late reporting. Eight days after the spill a similar spill occurred in the same region. The Romanian authorities again did not warn Hungary, and they have not withdrawn the operating licenses of the mining companies.

Direct economic damage is several hundred million dollars. No one knows how long cyanide in the mud will poison the river and neighboring wells and soils. It is shocking to see on television local people standing along the dead river and mourning it.

The following day Philip Sutton passed on news from the Mineral Policy Institute, an Australian nonprofit that keeps its eye on the mining industry. The offending company's name is Esmeralda. It did not post a bond against environmental damage. The cyanide pond sat in the middle of a Romanian town, 50 yards from an apartment block. The dam broke because rain and snow had filled the pond beyond capacity.

Geoff Evans, director of the Mineral Policy Institute, said, "This adds to the legacy of environmental disasters by Australian mining companies. Serious accidents like this are an inevitable and tragic consequence of using cyanide for gold extraction."

The word "inevitable" leaped out at me. The favorite word of globalization enthusiasts. Free trade, the global economy, it's all inevitable. Don't try to stand in the way of the train; your only choice is to get on and ride.

That "inevitability" claim stops both thought and action. Economics is not physics, it doesn't operate by laws we can't revoke. An economy is a human invention designed to serve human purposes. It is probably inevitable that there will be spills from huge open pools of cyanide. It is not inevitable that companies from one country be allowed to mishandle deadly chemicals in another country and spill them into a third country. Not inevitable, unless we believe it is and do nothing to prevent it.

Free trade enthusiasts never define what this "inevitable" globalization actually means to them. I gather that it means something like the freedom for anyone to go anywhere and do anything that makes money without interference from the locals. I don't suppose anyone actually wants a planetary pollution free-for-all. But you can see why Hungarians -- and New Guineans and other people who have had to live with cyanide and other kinds of spills -- might come to believe that, whatever is intended, what globalization really means is carelessness, unaccountability, greed, and destruction.

Of course, it was a global information system that allowed my group to pass along news of this disaster way ahead of the media. The WTO protesters in Seattle organized through the global Internet. Romanians learned about the poison on their border through Hungarian media. Some aspects of globalization are not only inevitable but desirable, while others are neither acceptable nor necessary. It isn't really hard to figure out which is which.

Donella H. Meadows is director of the Sustainability Institute and an adjunct professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College.

Cyanide tarnishes gold

by Virginia Marsh
July 18, 2000

One thousand two hundred and forty tonnes is a lot of fish. Yet that is the quantity the Hungarian authorities estimate died in the river Tisza after the cyanide spill in January at the Aurul gold mine near Baia Mare, just across the border in Romania. Last week, the Hungarian government lodged a claim for A$179m (�69.6m) of damages against Esmeralda, a tiny Western Australian company that operated the Aurul mine. Whatever the results of that action, the cyanide spill could prove something of a watershed for the world's gold mining industry.

The Esmeralda disaster attracted blanket media coverage across the world, causing great embarrassment to the mining industry. It was followed within weeks by another accident, when Dome Resources, an Australian company, accidentally dropped a tonne of highly concentrated cyanide in the Papua New Guinean jungle.

This has re-opened two of the industry's most intractable debates - over the use of cyanide in mining, and the duties that mining companies owe to the developing countries in which they operate.

Sodium cyanide has been used since the 1890s, the height of the gold rush, in the Australian state of Victoria, to "leach" gold particles from ore.

Many gold-containing ores are made up of fine gold particles locked within other minerals. It is usually both too expensive and technically difficult to extract the metal in commercial quantities from these ores using purely physical mining methods.

Cyanide is used to dissolve the gold, which is extracted by crushing, gravity separation and other physical techniques. After more than a century of research, cyanide remains the preferred reagent for extracting gold using leaching.

But cyanide is highly toxic. Controlling it means either covering up the waste ponds where it is stored, or diluting the wastes to perhaps a tenth the strength of the mixture that is used when processing the ore. One of the problems at Baia Mare was that cyanide levels in the waste were still at process strength. When a tailings dam collapsed, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of cyanide-laced water flooded into the Tisza.

As a cyanide-related mining disaster, the incident is without parallel, certainly in Australia and North America, two of the world's three largest gold-mining regions (the other is South Africa).

According to Australia's Department of Environment, cyanide has not been responsible for any fatalities in the local mining industry. Tom Farrell, an environmental consultant at the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy who has 25 years experience, says he is not even aware of any cyanide-contaminated water having escaped untreated from a mining plant or tailings dam in Australia.

Apart from public concern about plants using cyanide, the main environmental issue within Australia, he says, has been the poisoning of birds and other animals that have drunk from contaminated tailings dams.

But that in itself is cause for concern, according to many. The discovery that cyanide-laced water was responsible for the death of probably thousands of birds at the Northparkes mine in New South Wales in the mid-1990s, has held up government approval for further development of that plant or of other planned mining projects involving cyanide within the state.

The problem at Northparkes appears to have been put right. But Mr Farrell says the Esmeralda incident will perpetuate the idea in the public mind that cyanide is a serious, perhaps the most serious, environmental issue that the Australian gold mining industry faces.

The trouble is that there are few alternatives. Many Australian mining companies have been increasing spending on research and development, including in the environmental area. Newcrest, one of the larger local gold mining companies, for example, has increased its annual R&D spend by 40 per cent over the past four years. Even so the industry - out of favour with equity markets and under greater pressure than many to improve returns - has not spent enough investigating alternatives.

One approach uses polymers with ion-exchange capabilities to hoover up cyanide ions from mine waste - or tailings - before the chemical even leaves the processing plant and finds its way into a slurry. According to Bill Jay, who heads Orotek, which markets the technology, there has been a lot more interest in the cyanide recovery technology since the accident in Romania.

This approach comes from work at Monash University in Victoria, to which Mr Jay is affiliated. Professor John Cushion and others at the university are also investigating several methods using chlorine and polyurethene foam.

However, Mr Jay, a former senior research fellow in Prof Cushion's department, says these techniques are still years from the point when they might replace the cyanide method.

A third technique is bio-mining - the use of acid-eating bacteria that dissolve gold as cyanide does, but are far less toxic. But neither is this economical enough to be widely used.

Although the industry has no new techniques to introduce, it can use cyanide more safely around the world. Within Australia, mining companies have for decades been goaded into adopting better environmental practices by the green lobby and are subject to stringent government regulations. After a number of disasters abroad, they are now under growing pressure to adopt the same standards required at home when working elsewhere - even if local law does not demand it.

"Companies know they can't get away with doing one thing in Australia and another somewhere else," says Greg Barns, chief executive of the Australian Gold Council, an industry association.

Broken Hill Proprietary, one of Australia's largest mining groups, is high on environmentalists' list of worst offenders, because of its Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea. However, the company is now at the forefront of attempts to establish global industry standards.

The "global mining initiative" would bind companies around the world to a broad set of principles and best practice that they would undertake to follow at every mine, no matter where.

The initiative, which would also address social and economic issues, is being championed by Paul Anderson, the American who has shaken up BHP since becoming chief executive two years ago.

Among other things, Mr Anderson has come clean about Ok Tedi, admitting it has had dire environmental and social consequences, and is working with the Papua New Guinean government on a plan to close it down. The project has devastated the surrounding river system, because of the waste dumped into it - an incident over which BHP was successfully sued by local groups in the mid-1990s.

The global initiative was already under way before Esmeralda's disaster in Romania, but industry followers say the accident has given the scheme impetus. The challenge is to get the hundreds of small exploration companies and mining service companies to sign up too. Many are, like Esmeralda, loss-making and employ just a few staff.

"The larger groups, many of which are increasingly outsourcing to the smaller companies, should be able to use their leverage with these operators to impose higher standards," says a senior mining executive. "There is a realisation that accidents like Esmeralda's are hugely damaging to us all, not just to the companies involved, and that we have to work harder as an industry to prevent such accidents from occurring."

(c) Copyright Financial Times, 2000


Inquiry waters muddied

by Gillian O'Connor
July 18, 2000

The United Nations report on the disaster at the Aurul gold mine near Baia Mare concluded that the mine spill, which polluted 2,000km of rivers in Romania, Hungary and Yugoslavia, was partly due to inherent faults in the design of the mine dam meant to contain the cyanide-rich waste.

"The breach in the retention dam was probably caused by a combination of inherent design deficiencies in the process, unforeseen operating conditions and bad weather," it said. The report, published just before Easter, also criticised the company and local Romanian authorities for their "rudimentary" preparations and procedures for coping with emergencies. It took 10 hours for the local Baia Mare environment agency to inform the local waters authority of the spill.

And the report commented on the lack of any monitoring system to spot a disaster in the making. Baia Mare is only the latest in a series of mining spills. The table, listing some of the more important recent ones, covers incidents in Papua New Guinea, South Africa, Guyana, the Philippines, Spain and Kyrgyzstan.

Many relate to gold mines, and involve cyanide. But the Los Frailes spill in Spain came from a lead-zinc mine, and the Philippines one from a copper mine.

Many involve cracks or breaks in waste dams, but the Kyrgyzstan spill occurred when a truck carrying cyanide crashed into a river.

Finding out exactly what went wrong and why, even in relatively recent disasters, is not easy. All the parties involved have their own interests to protect, and claims, counterclaims and denials muddy the issues.

In the immediate aftermath of Baia Mare, Esmeralda, the Australian company operating the project, said that the incident had been grossly exaggerated, that there was no evidence to connect the contamination with the dam overflow, and that the overflow was attributable to the wet snowy weather, not a structural failure. And even now there are marked discrepancies between pollution reports from the Romanian and the Hungarian scientists.

At Marcopper in the Philippines the company asked the court to dismiss charges against its executives, saying that the waste spill - after an earthquake - was an act of God for which no one could be held liable.

Any attempt to pin down common causes for incidents where the events are disputed must be speculative.

The use of cyanide and the effectiveness of waste dams are obvious issues. But the attitudes of some mining companies and governments may also be relevant.

(c) Copyright Financial Times, 2000


See MineWire, Vol. 3, No. 5 for a related story on the Aural mine spill, entitled "Hungary files mine spill claim", at

Mineral Policy Center Protecting Communities and the Environment
1612 K St., NW, Suite 808, Washington, D.C. 20006
202-887-1872 (ph), 202-887-1875 (fax),

Tom Wilson
Wisconsin Stewardship Network
Northern Thunder Residential Energy Services
416 East Court Street Viroqua, WI 54665
phone & fax 608-637-3356



EU Releases Report on Cyanide Disaster

International Mining Environment Groups Call for Strict Oversight of Mining Operations

Dec. 15, 2000
Mineral Policy Center
- Friends of the Earth,
Hungary - Mineral Policy

InstituteContact: Chris Cervini, 202.887.1872 x207
Stephen D'Esposito, 202.887.1872 x203

The European Union today released a report on the Esmeralda cyanide mining disaster which devastated a huge swath of the Danube river system earlier this year.

The spill, which was called Europe's worst environmental disaster since Chernobyl, has forced the European Union to look at implementing strict legislation to control the operations of foreign mining companies.

Today, Friends of the Earth in Hungary, Mineral Policy Center in the United States, and Mineral Policy Institute in Australia call for mining operations to be controlled by proper international standards wherever the companies are operating and not just in the European Union.

Such standards should deal with:

  • The need to regulate mining companies by strong international regulations
  • The ineffectiveness of voluntary regulation
  • The long term pollution problems created by mining
  • Protection of sensitive ecosystems and protected areas
  • Bans on inherently destructive practices such as riverine and ocean waste disposal
  • Compensation for those directly affected by mining disasters
  • Creation of baseline mechanisms that identify parties financially liable for cleanup when disasters occur

This past January, Australian miner Esmeralda spilled 3.5 million cubic feet of cyanide contaminated and heavy metal-laden waste water into Romanian rivers. The pollution flowed through Hungary to Yugoslavia and on into the Danube, killing all aquatic life in a 250-mile stretch of the river system.

The spill was one in a long series of disasters associated with the modern mining industry, including a devastating 1995 tailings dam break at the Omai gold mine in Guyana and a cyanide and heavy metals leak at the Summitville gold mine in Colorado in the early '90s.

"The public's cyanide allergy is a response to the industry's poor track record of cyanide spills and polluted ecosystems," said Mineral Policy Center's president, Stephen D'Esposito. "It will continue to spread until regulators establish international standards and mining companies follow them."

"Australian, Canadian, U.S. and British mining companies have poor track records when it comes to protecting the public and the environment from mining's impacts," said Geoff Evans, director of the Mineral Policy Institute in Australia. "Mining companies need to be held accountable and international standards need to be put in place to prevent future catastrophes."

Everyday practices of international mining companies are also causing massive environmental and social damage. These companies routinely dump waste directly into rivers and oceans, and destroy farmland with acid drainage that leaks off mine sites and into river systems. What has resulted from such practices are farming communities that can no longer work their land and river communities devastated by waterways choked with mine waste.

"The concerns of impacted people in Hungary are raised, but the silence about the ongoing impact on local population around the mine site is a serious issue which is not addressed," said Jozsef Feiler from Friends of the Earth Hungary. "The poor record of the Romanian authorities goes hand in hand with the cynical and negligent approach of the Australian company using double standards. Practices continue in Eastern Europe that would not be allowed in Australia." Feiler concluded.

"Today, we call for and end to what amounts to an environmental double standard," MPC's D'Esposito reaffirmed. "There has to be an international effort to protect developing countries from mining practices that would not be allowed where these companies have their headquarters -- The U.S., Australia, Canada or Britain."

Also contact:
Geoff Evans or Simon Divecha, Mineral Policy Institute, Sydney, Australia:
From Australia 0418 261 404 or 0428 77 5540
From Overseas +61 418 261 404 or +61 428 77 5540

Jozsef Feiler, Friends of the Earth Hungary
From Hungary 302 475 695
From Overseas +36 302475695




On May 20, 1998, a truck transporting cyanide to the Kumtor gold mine in Kyrgyzstan plunged off a bridge, spilling about 1,762 kilograms (kg) of sodium cyanide into a river upstream of several villages. (The material that spilled was a concentrated form of cyanide and not cyanide-bearing tailings or heap leach waters...)

Within days after the spill, hundreds of local residents s ought treatment at medical clinics. According to a report by the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense, at least one human death was related to the cyanide spill. The mining company and some officials of the Kyrgyz government, which holds a majority ownership in the mine, have argued that few if any significant impacts have occurred to any living organisms or the overall environment, as a result of the spill.

According to Dr. Owen Mathre, a former research chemist for E.I.DuPont, the dissolution of approximately 1,800 kg (about 2 tons) of solid sodium cyanide under these conditions would probably require several hours to complete. Since the pre-spill pH of the river was likely less than 9.0, most of the dissolved cyanide would have formed HCN, a toxic gas that would have escaped into the air. Within a few hours of the accident, sodium hypochlorite was applied to areas near the spill site to break down the cyanide. Application of this chemical, however, would likely result in the formation of cyanate and cyanogen chloride--cyanide- related compounds that are toxic to aquatic organisms. Cyanogen chloride is a heavy gas that could have traveled significant distances from the spill, and has been known to cause throat and eye irritation in mine workers. Therefore this compound, together with the presence of gaseous ammonia, may have contributed to some of the medical complaints of the local citizens.

Water samples collected about 20 meters from the spill site (presumably downstream) within hours of the accident contained up to 79.5 mg/L of free cyanide, which was the only cyanide form reported. However, since standard cyanide analytical techniques fail to detect several forms of cyanide and cyanide-related compounds, the concentrations reported would not include cyanide from many of the stronger metal- cyanide complexes, nor would they include the toxic cyanide breakdown products in cyanates, thiocyanates, cyanogen, and cyanogen chloride, or indications of ammonia or chloramine concentrations. All of these compounds could have formed following the spill, and all are toxic to aquatic organisms. Furthermore, it is unclear that any of the early samples were collected prior to the application of the sodium hypochlorite.

Thus, available data from the cyanide spill in Kyrgyzstan provides an incomplete picture of the toxic forms of cyanide potentially present at the spill site.

From Mineral Policy Centrer
MPC Issue Paper No. 1
Cyanide Uncertainties:
Observations on the Chemistry, Toxicity, and
Analysis of Cyanide in Mining-Related Waters
by Robert Moran, Ph.D., 1998



Regional Strike Against Canadian Mining Companies

August 31, 1999

Peruvian army troops with automatic weapons took control of Huaraz, capital of Ancash department, on Aug. 20 as residents shut down the city on the second day of a nearly total 48-hour civic strike.

Huaraz mayor Waldo Rios Salcedo said the regional strike was supported by 27 provincial and district mayors in Ancash department, and by 132 campesino organizations. The strike was called to protest the activities of two Canadian mining companies, "whose gold production at the Pierina mine is valued at $50 billion, while the surrounding areas get no benefit at all," according to Rios.

The Canadian companies Barrick-Misquichilca and Antamina are under fire for not paying adequate taxes to benefit the region; for failing to hire local people -- only five of the total 870 workers on the companies' payroll are from Huaraz; and for using cyanide in their production process.

Municipal offices, schools and commercial establishments were closed during the two-day strike; only a few pharmacies and street vendors were open for business. There was no public transport. Footage aired on a privately owned cable television station showed soldiers guarding bridges, gas stations, public buildings and plazas, and patrolling the city in private vehicles.

On Aug. 19, after a demonstration in the main plaza of Huaraz where mayor Rios blasted the mining companies, groups of protesters blocked streets with stones, burned tires and knocked down signs around the city. The office of the Ancash Prefecture said in a communique that the army presence in Huaraz was necessary "in the face of the abuses committed by groups headed by mayor Waldo Rios, which caused damages to property." Police said the disturbances left five people injured and 10 arrested





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