MAC: Mines and Communities

Argentina - Criminal complaint filed against Barrick over cyanide spill

Published by MAC on 2015-09-17
Source: EFE, Merco Press,, BA Herald

Barrick has been accused of a cynaide spill at a gold mine in San Juan province, Argentina.

Although the company says there is nothing to worry about, locals are taking to the streets. Diario de Cuyo noted that 3,000 people protested in Jachal, the nearest town to the mine, to demand an explanation. They have been gathering in similar circumstances since Sunday, 13th September, demanding the truth.

(Updates added on 26 September 2015)

Criminal complaint filed against Barrick over cyanide spill in Argentina


16 September 2015

Prosecutors in the western Argentine province of San Juan have filed a criminal complaint over a cyanide spill at a gold mine operated by Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold, while hundreds of local residents demanded Wednesday that authorities halt work at the deposit.

"We want all investigative measures taken to determine if there's a crime ... and if there's criminal liability," provincial prosecutor Guillermo de Sanctis told EFE, referring to the complaint filed Tuesday with a provincial court.

Barrick Gold said in a statement that the spill occurred Sunday when a pipe carrying cyanide suffered a valve failure at its Veladero gold mine, although it insisted the leak did not contaminate local water supplies.

The San Juan provincial government recommended that the inhabitants of three towns located near Veladero "avoid and/or reduce their consumption of water from the Blanco River" as a precautionary measure until tests results are known.

That official notification came just hours after the president of the San Juan Mining Chamber assured local residents that the spill posed no threat to the local population.

Around 1,000 people protested Wednesday in Jachal, the town closest to the mine, to call for the shuttering of the mine and the resignation of the provincial mining minister, among other demands.

"After saying that everything was fine and under control, they prohibit three towns from drinking water. Imagine the uncertainty that's out there," Domingo Jofre, a community leader in Jachal, told EFE.

Cyanide spill in Argentine Andean mine triggers strong protests from local residents

16 September 2015

Residents of a town in the Argentine northwestern province of San Juan took to the streets in protest after an industrial malfunction caused a pipe carrying potentially lethal cyanide to the nearby Veladero gold mine to fracture and spill an amount of its contents in the area on Sunday. The news reached national level on Monday.

The mine served by the faulty pipe is owned and administered by Barrick, a large Canadian multinational operating in Argentina

Governor Gioja said that an investigation into the incident was pending if any discrepancies in Barrick’s actions were found, “there would be sanctions”

The mine served by the faulty pipe is owned and administered by Barrick, a large Canadian multinational operating in Argentina, and is one of the largest gold mines in the country. The company denied that there was any contamination to the local area or any risk posed to inhabitants and insisted that the incident had been brought swiftly under control.

“The leak was detected almost immediately and the valve shut down. Production was halted to prevent pumping more of the solution,” a company official told Reuters. However residents of Jáchal also expressed concern that the town’s water supply would be affected by the dangerous chemical spill, though this was also refuted by Barrick.

“There was no contamination in the water running in the river basin near Jáchal. All measures were taken to resolve the contingency,” the company said as they sought to dispel local unease over the industrial accident. Local authorities also issued statements alongside Barrick which said that the situation posed no danger to residents in the area.

“An intensive monitoring of water to clear any doubts about contamination is being performed,” said Provincial Mining Minister Felipe Saavedra. “Samples (of river water) up to 30 kilometres downstream are being taken every two hours,” he added, stating that the local authorities were “conducting surveys to start a summary that would surely result in a penalty,” if misconduct was believed to have taken place.

Likewise Governor of San Juan province and a close ally of president Cristina Fernandez, José Luis Gioja said that an investigation into the incident was pending and that, were any discrepancies in Barrick’s actions found, “there would be sanctions,” he said.

“The company statement is being verified by our Mining Ministry officials to assure people that there are no complications for those working in the mine, who number almost 2,000 people including direct employees and contractors, let alone for the inhabitants of Jáchal,” he added.

Jáchal is a remote Andean town located over 4,000 metres above sea level and 350 kilometres from the provincial capital San Juan. The Veladero Gold Mine, like many worldwide, employs the effective but controversial use of cyanide processing or cyanidation, whereby a solution of the chemical — very poisonous to humans — is mixed and fuses with the gold contained within the raw ore extracted by the initial mining process.

Despite widespread use of the technique across the world, it has been banned in Chubut province, Argentina, along with a number of US states and European countries over fears of its potential dangers.

Barrick’s cyanide solution spill five times larger

24 September 2015

Company’s own new figures show leak had been massively underestimated

The amount of cyanide solution that spilled from Barrick Gold’s Veladero mine in San Juan province is almost five times more than previously believed, the company acknowledged yesterday as a second federal prosecutor moved to investigate national and provincial officials and mining executives amid growing environmental concerns.

By Barrick’s own estimates, approximately 1,072 cubic metres (1.072 million litres) of cyanide solution made it into the Potrerillos River, due to a valve failure and a sluice gate being left open on September 12.

Previous upper estimates of the spill had been in the realm of 224,000 litres. The Canadian multinational chalked up the revised number to the pinpointing of the approximate time of the valve failure, believed to be around 8pm. The cyanide solution is used to leach gold from processed rocks, a common method for the extraction of gold from ore.

Despite the revised estimate, Barrick insists the spill will not lead to any health risks for area residents.

As a reference to understand the magnitude of the spill, Olympic-sized swimming pools have a volume of 2.5 million litres.

Cyanide leaching operations have been put on hold due to a judge’s order since the spill,and the company is currently in the process of carrying out upgrades to the mine to ensure that another spill does not take place.

At this time though the company has yet to determine why a sluice gate that should have been closed was left open. That failure allowed the cyanide solution to bypass emergency pools and to enter the Potrerillos River.

A court-ordered investigation has established that the water supplies for the surrounding towns are safe to drink but the tests are still ongoing and it remains to be seen if aquifers have been contaminated.

Triple play

While Barrick employees continued to appear before San Juan Judge Pablo Oritja yesterday to give testimony over the incident, the company and the officials who authorized its activities came under more judicial scrutiny yesterday as federal prosecutor Ramiro González agreed to open a criminal investigation following a complaint by environmental lawyers.

This second investigation, separate to the probe launched by federal prosecutor Federico Delgado a day earlier, named Environment Secretary Sergio Lorusso, Mining Secretary Jorge Mayoral, San Juan Environment Secretary Domingo Tello, the president of the San Juan Mining Chamber Santiago Bergé and the leadership of Barrick Gold Argentina as persons of interest.

González, who is also the head of a specialized office handling environmental issues, went further than Delgado and requested that all of the licences and approvals issued by the San Juan Mining Ministry be handed over to investigators as well as the details of all of the contingency measures put in place to prevent spills like the one that took place on Veladero.

González also requested confirmation from the national arms control body that Barrick has the appropriate permissions to use explosives for mining purposes.

Federal Judge Sebastián Casanello must now decide whether to approve those requests.

On Tuesday, Delgado requested that Guillermo Caló, Barrick Gold Argentina’s executive director, be summoned to explain what happened during the incident and the risks posed to human health. Delgado also indicated that an investigation must begin to determine if the provincial and national executive branches played any role in the eventual wrongdoing.

Delgado’s requests must be approved by Federal Judge Marcelo Martínez de Giorgi before any Barrick executives or public officials can be called to make depositions. Although the investigation that has begun is criminal in nature, nobody has yet been charged.

At press time last night, Barrick had not specifically commented on the prosecutor’s requests, but it did repeat that it was willing to cooperate with authorities and the courts.

The Senate’s Environmental Committee, meanwhile, took the unusual step of travelling to San Juan province yesterday to take stock of the incident. The committee is chaired by Proyecto Sur Senator Fernando “Pino” Solanas (Buenos Aires City) and and he was accompanied by various opposition senators. None of the committee’s ruling Victory Front (FpV) senators travelled to San Juan.

“We have come to San Juan to hear from residents the truth about the cyanide spill” said Solanas, adding that “none of the senators that are here are running for office. We have come because there was an accident and it is our responsibility as legislators to respond to people’s needs.”

On Tuesday, Oritja said samples taken from Blanco and Jáchal river basins were cyanide free and safe.

Argentina extends Barrick’s Veladero gold mine halt

Cecilia Jamasmie

23 September 2015

An Argentine judge ruled Wednesday that gold leaching processes at Barrick Gold Corp's Veladero mine should remain suspended until authorities can determine whether there was environmental damage from a cyanide leak triggered by a faulty valve.

Pablo Oritja, from the western province of San Juan where the mine is located, had initially ordered a five-day suspension, but he decided to extend the holdup “as a precautionary measure,” he told local TV station TN.

A company's spokesperson told the halt implies that Barrick is restricted from adding new cyanide to the leach circuit until the firm meets several additional requests. These, he added, are related primarily to "inspection and maintenance of the valves that were involved in the incident."

On Sept. 13, Barrick acknowledged a pipe carrying cyanide at the Veladero mine had a valve failure causing a leak into nearby waters. An investigation determined about 1,000 cubic metres of liquid cyanide had spilled.

Local residents have feared contamination of their water and the judge said environmental impact couldn’t be ruled out just yet.

"The company has to present a plan for improvements to the safe handling of valves," Oritja said according to Diario Uno (in Spanish).

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

The company has said that production has not been affected by the suspension order.

Argentine judge lifts Barrick’s Veladero gold mine halt

Cecilia Jamasmie

25 September 2015

An Argentine judge has lifted restrictions on processing activities at Barrick Gold Corp's Veladero mine, saying a cyanide leak triggered by a faulty valve did not caused any environmental damage, the company said Friday.

"The water did not contain cyanide or other contaminating metals, so I decided to lift the cautionary measure,” judge Pablo Oritja, from the western province of San Juan where the mine is located, told local television channel TN.

On Sept. 13, Barrick acknowledged a pipe carrying cyanide at the Veladero mine had a valve failure causing a leak into nearby waters. An initial estimate said about 224,000 cubic metres of liquid cyanide had spilled. But a later investigation determined that the incident released more than 1,000 cubic metres of liquid cyanide into the Potrerillos River. By comparison, an Olympic-sized swimming pool holds about 2,500 cubic metres (or 2.5 million litres).

The local court had initially ordered a five-day suspension, but Barrick’s own water monitoring program, as well as testing results from an independent third-party laboratory, have confirmed that water quality never exceeded safe exposure limits for humans, and posed no risk to the health of downstream communities, the company said.

“These findings are consistent with water testing results released by other third parties in San Juan province, including the Public Health Department and the state water distribution company,” the miner said in a separate document.

The world’s largest gold company by output noted the imposed ban is not expected to impact the mine’s production because it was able to use existing solution that had already been pumped into the leaching system.

Barrick said that a series of additional preventative measures and controls have been implemented at the leach pad to ensure it is safe to resume full operations. It added that an investigation to determine the root causes of the valve failure that led to this incident is underway.

The Veladero mine produced 722,000 ounces of gold last year alone and is likely to contribute about 10% to Barrick’s total gold output for 2015.



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