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Barrick Gold cyanide spill in Argentine mine analyzed by UN team of experts

Monday, September 21st 2015 - 08:19 UTC
Full article 5 comments
Barrick Gold admitted that at least 224,000 liters of a “cyanide solution” have been spilled and said it was waiting on laboratory results over the substance. Barrick Gold admitted that at least 224,000 liters of a “cyanide solution” have been spilled and said it was waiting on laboratory results over the substance.
“The key issue here is why the emergency plan didn’t work, which could have avoided the cyanide from reaching the river” said Judge Oritja “The key issue here is why the emergency plan didn’t work, which could have avoided the cyanide from reaching the river” said Judge Oritja

A group of United Nations experts have started to analyze water samples in the Argentine northeastern province of San Juan where a spill from a malfunctioning cyanide pipeline in a gold mine belonging to Canada's multinational Barrick Gold has caused a water emergency. The Veladero mine in San Juan is one of the largest in Argentina and apparently the spill reached the rivers Jachal, Las Taguas and Blanco.

 Officials from the the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) arrived in San Juan as part of an agreement to audit mining projects and are currently analyzing the samples. The results of will be handed over directly to the Argentine Judiciary.

The Barrick Gold Canadian multinational company admitted that at least 224,000 liters of a “cyanide solution” have been spilled and said it was waiting on laboratory results over the substance.

Judge Pablo Oritja, in charge of the investigation, is currently seeking to determine whether there was human negligence on the cyanide spill as the malfunction could have been caused due to a lack of maintenance. Oritja visited the affected area on Friday and said that Barrick’s emergency plan didn’t work, pointing that a floodgate that should have been closed to avoid the spill was actually open.

“The key issue here is why the emergency plan didn’t work, which could have avoided the cyanide from reaching the river. The floodgate was open and we are now investigating the reasons behind that,” Oritja said over the weekend.

The UN support follows an Argentine's court order of a five-day suspension of the gold leaching process at Veladero mine to determine whether there was any environmental damage from the cyanide leak.

The San Juan provincial government recommended inhabitants of three towns located near Veladero to “avoid and/or reduce their consumption of water from the [nearby] Blanco River” as a precautionary measure until further tests are conducted.

“Our focus is now on ensuring a safe and comprehensive response to this incident,” said Barrick Gold in a release. The company noted it has found no evidence of contamination in surrounded rivers since Sunday (a week ago), when the leakage occurred, and that the faulty valve had already been replaced.

However, locals are up in arms for what they call “inconsistent messages” since while both Barrick and the San Juan Mining Chamber claim the spill poses no threat to the population, the provincial government has called locals to only drink bottled water until further notice.

Veladero, one of the largest gold mines in Argentina, produced 722,000 ounces of gold in 2014.

Categories: Environment, Argentina.

Top Comments

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  • ChrisR

    This is what happens when the company puts out messages that everything is OK only to be found that either they were lying or utterly incompetent in mine operation.

    Faulty valves happen all the while and systems have been in place for decades to avoid this failure from turning into a disaster.

    But the people of SA are incapable of looking just one step ahead and then denying any blame when the shit hits the fan. Everything is an “accident” when the facts are far different.

    You only have to see them driving cars in the most dangerous manner through towns to understand why there are 21.5 fatalities per 100K drivers in UYU when the comparable figure in the UK is 3.5/100k.

    Sep 21st, 2015 - 01:12 pm 0
  • redp0ll

    Now Chris lets be fair. Barrick is a Canadian megamining company with a somewhat doubtful record in environmental protection. As you no doubt know their Pascua Lama Project in the high Andes which straddles the Argentine/Chilean frontier has run into constant trouble with the Chilean authorities who not only fined Barrick U$D 13 m but suspended the Project.
    With the fall in the gold Price its posible they are cutting a few corners.
    What surprises me is that there was no back up system to contain any spillage or ground wáter contamination. There certainly is here on the working gold mine in Uruguay.
    I seem to recall a comment to these threads by an argy contibutor that Barrick has the San Juan provincial government in its pocket so thats maybe why barrick has been allowed to cut some corners?

    Sep 21st, 2015 - 03:08 pm 0
  • ChrisR

    @ 2 redp0ll

    I share your concerns about Barrick but closing the gate in a system designed to stop further problems is hardly challenging, is it? The local mine personnel just didn't bother.

    Basically, they don't care what happens to others despite the harm they may come to.

    Just look at OSE and the so called 'bloom' problem at Laguna del Sauce!

    It is blindingly obvious that despite Mujica's protestations that farmers do not over-use fertilizers or even use pesticides at all the evidence points to the contrary. One of my Uruguayo friends has a farm and an electrical parts shop and has in the window a montage of Mujica together with the truth. I think he despises the murdering bastard even more than me.

    Did OSE put monitoring on the streams that feed LdelS for these problems? If they did they are not providing the evidence that's for sure.

    It took Vasquez to act (in support of the election) and stop payment until the problem was “solved” as if it only took a few weeks! And now they have admitted to even bigger and more costly problems in two other areas!

    So yes, the big corporations are very far from blameless but the incompetence of UYU monopolies is a very close second in my judgement.

    Sep 21st, 2015 - 06:23 pm 0
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