Costa Rica | Puntarenas | Miramar : Glencairn Gold
Glencairn Gold Corporation began operating at the Bellavista site near Miramar in Costa Rica in 2003 in spite of concerns by locals, warnings by scientists of the riskiness of the area for large-scale open-pit mining, and an impending ban on open-pit mining in the country.
Canadian mining corporation Glencairn (now Central Sun Mining Inc headquartered in Toronto) established its gold mine in an unstable area with heavy rainfall and provided insufficient funds for mine closure and cleanup.
The mine had a leach pad rupture and probably contaminated waterways with cyanide and other chemicals.
Earthworks, along with Sonia Torres of CEUS del Golfo and other partner organizations, has pressured the company to properly clean up the Bellavista site, but more work is needed to ensure that they complete the clean up, reclamation, and ecological restoration thoroughly.
Glencairn started exploration at the Bellavista open-pit mine site in Costa Rica in 2003.
Since the mine site was set on a mountain slope prone to landslides in an area with heavy rainfall, scientists predicted that the mine, and residents living nearby, were vulnerable to catastrophic accidents and spills of cyanide and heavy metals.
The site is also located in a tropical humid forest in a region of important biodiversity and is just uphill from what were once pristine streams and springs.
The Bellavista site also had the potential to generate acid mine drainage, which would acidify streams and contaminate them with heavy metals.
The community expressed its concerns with the project as well.
The company set up a mine using "cyanide heap leaching" at Bellavista. In this process, cyanide trickles through massive mounds of ore and removes the gold from the ore. Cyanide is an intensely toxic substance; a teaspoon of it can kill a human. If a leach pad liner leaks, the cyanide can escape and contaminate the groundwater and leak out to surface waters.
In May 2005, the testimony by AIDA (Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense) scientist Anna Cederstav led the Costa Rican Supreme Court to force Glencairn to conduct further studies and create additional protections for the area's ground and surface waters.
Nonetheless, the company began mining gold that December even though a country-wide ban on open-pit mining entered into force in 2002. Glencairn had obtained its permits before the ban was legislated and so was "grandfathered" (Google translation into English).
Contamination proved to be a problem early on.
- As early as 2005, environmental groups reported water pollution from Bellavista exploration and mining. The early warnings about the problems with the Bellavista project were further vindicated in 2007. In July 2007, earth movements caused by geological instability or rainfall cracked the mine's leach pad liner, probably leaking cyanide and contaminating the groundwater near the community of Miramar. The Canadian company suspended its operations only after the accident, even though it said it had noticed earth movements in May.
Glencairn pays (part of) the price
EARTHWORKS and our partner organizations, including activist Sonia Torres and her organization CEUS del Golfo, sought to ensure that Glencairn would fully shut down and clean up the mine, which remained in unstable condition. In September 2007, we publicly called for Glencairn to disclose what had happened at the site and clean it up. Thousands of our members contacted Glencairn directly. Press coverage of the concerns caused Glencairn stocks to plummet 18% in one day.
Subsequently, Glencairn made moves to shut down the mine and removed some equipment. The fate of the mine was sealed when a major landslide destroyed remaining infrastructure at the mine. The Directorate of Geology and Mines then ordered Glencairn to reclaim the site and protect springs and sources of drinking water.
To distance itself from these events, Glencairn changed its name to Central Sun Mining and focused on its mine sites in other countries. Although they have begun reclamation work at Bellavista, the paltry sum that they had posted as a reclamation bond before mining, only US$ 250,000, is no guarantee that they will finish the job properly. Glencairn has also denied requests by activists to disclose the extent of the spill's damage, nor would they agree to an independent evaluation. On a phone call with investors in November 2007, CEO Peter Tagliamonte continued to claim that they had not detected any cyanide below the leach pad, that the mine would not generate acid mine drainage, and that they would not allow an independent evaluation of the situation.
The director of mining and geology Francisco Castro pledged to not allow the company to remove expensive equipment until the remediation process was finished. The company, however, was moving materials as recently as 25 April, 2008 and the reclamation and restoration is far from finished.
For more information:
- AIDA (Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense): Landslide at gold mine endangers community
Click on a photo in the slideshow to download, or view these photos on Flickr.
- Glencairn: Investor conference call, November 14, 2007
- El Nuevo Diario: Glencairn Gold reinicia operació en mina nicaragüense tras bloqueo de rutas 07 March 2006. Para el Marena no hay problema con río Mico. Noticias Financieras. 10 February 2006.