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Decoding Cyanide

Decoding Cyanide
An assessment of gaps in cyanide regulation at mines

Published: February 22, 2002

By: Robert E. Moran

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Cyanide is a chemical that is both efficient in extracting gold from mined ore, and lethal. Cyanide is a chemical lethal to humans in small quantities; a teaspoon of 2% cyanide solution can cause death.

Processing chemicals such as cyanide have made it profitable to mine ore bodies with low ore grades. Such ore bodies would have been left un-mined in the past. However, this method of mining, using large quantities of cyanide to remove microscopic specs of gold from vast amounts of ore or crushed rock, is generating more and more controversy. Due to a string of spills and accidents, there is growing concern about the environmental, human health, and human rights impacts of large-scale mining operations that use cyanide.

Mines that use cyanide as a processing agent often lead to conflicts over the use of land and natural resources such as water. Too often gold mines of this type cause human rights violations like forced evictions and the destruction of land and water, thus depriving communities and people of their very base of existence (clean water, lands for agriculture, forest and fishing). The recent history of cyanide spills is fostering growing public concern about the potential for more spills and accidents, leading to massive water pollution problems. In response, a number of jurisdictions have banned dangerous mining practices and others are seeking to implement similar bans.

Tagged with: toxics, regulation, gold mining, cyanide

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