MAC/20: Mines and Communities

German Parliament decision on Gold Production

Published by MAC on 2002-01-24

German Parliament decision on "Minimization of the environmental and health hazards of gold production"

What follows is the text of a unanimous decision of the Federal Parliament of Germany regarding cyanide leaching. Unfortunately, it is not a law - but it does carry a political weight and may be useful to others.

Document 14/1076


Motion of the SPD (Socialdemocrats) and 90 Alliance (Greens)

Unanimously approved by the Federal Parliament on January 24 2002

RE : "Minimization of the environmental and health hazards of gold production"

The Federal Parliament of Germany is called upon to approve the following:

I. The annual world production of gold amounts to about 3000 tons, most of which is produced with the chemical method of "cyanide leaching". During this process a low-grade ore (about 5 gr/ton) is leached with a highly toxic cyanide solution. Gold is binded to carbon and is removed. In 60% of the cases, mainly in areas inhabited by native and indigenous peoples, the method used is "cyanide heap leaching" and tailings and solid wastes containing cyanide are abandoned in heaps or tailings ponds . The older - even more dangerous - amalgamation process is still in use, mainly in Latin America.

Scientific research has proven beyond doubt that gold production in open-air cyanide leaching installations can lead to irreversible damage to ecosystems. The management of toxic wastes in disposal sites, such as tailings ponds and heaps, is dangerous. In addition, dambursts, leaks and accidents during transportation are frequent. In the end of January 2000, a dam burst at the tailings pond of the Aurul gold mine in Baia Mare, Romania. The wastes were spilled in the Tisza River causing an unprecedented ecological disaster in Europe.

According to German and European Union legislation and, in particular, laws Kreislaufwirtschafts-und Wasserhaushaultsgesezes (for the management of water resources), the laws on chemical substances and environmental laws, as well as Directive 91/689/EC on dangerous substances, no government agency can authorize the production of gold through cyanide leaching in open-air heaps.

For this reason, gold mining companies use this method mainly in countries with insufficient environmental legislation. When resources are exhausted, a few years later, mining companies leave and people are abandoned with the environmental problems caused by the operation. Human rights are violated, as people are displaced from their homelands or lose their means of subsistence because of accidents. After exhaustion of resources, gold mining companies often declare bankruptcy and are unable to fulfill their contractual obligations. In order to effectively deal with these problems, gold should be produced exclusively in closed facilities, as provided by the strict European regulations for chemical plants.

II. The German Parliament greets:

- The decisions of the Czech Senate of August 2002 and the Czech Parliament, of September 2000, to forbid gold production through cyanide leaching in the Czech Republic domain (Mining Law of 1991, article 30, paragraph 8).

- The decision of the Turkish Council of State in 1997 not to allow gold production through cyanide leaching, on the basis of article 56 of the Turkish Constitution which guarantees the right of people to live in a healthy environment (nr. 1996/5348, decision nr. 1997/2311).

- The European Union's "Baia Mare Task Force" recommendation that cyanide and other toxic substances contained in tailings from the production process be removed before disposal and that waste disposal facilities and tailings ponds of inadequate capacity or lacking emergency drainage systems for excess water be forbidden. (Report of the International Task Force Assessing the Baia Mare Accident, presented in Brussels, on December 15, 2000).

- The decision of the European Parliament of November 17 1994 against gold mining near Pergamon and Adramyttion, Turkey (ABL C 341, December 5 1994, page 169).

III. The Federal Parliament requests the Federal Government to call upon German corporations and banks not to get involved - directly on indirectly - in gold mining, unless certain environmental safeguards are kept. It refers to the Banks' declaration to UNEP for the environment and sustainable development, according to which the signatories - including some well known German banks - "try to incorporate environmental considerations in all their activities around the world". Research programs for the development of alternative gold recovery methods, which will replace the current, dangerous methods, must be financed.

IV. The Federal Parliament calls on the Federal Government :

1 To use its influence so that during negotiations for the admission of new countries into the European Union :

- accession countries enact an environmental legislation which will guarantee that the strictest safeguards, according to the latest technologic developments, apply to gold production,

- safety measures, which will prevent the occurrence of future Baia-Mare-like accidents, be adopted,

- the European Union fulfils its obligation to identify the gold production sites which constitute a threat to waterways and demand the enforcement of the Baia Mare Task Force recommendations.

2. To use its influence, within the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, so that environmental and security regulations at gold mining facilities be modernized and put to effect.

3. To use its influence to effect an increase in the recycling of existing quantities of gold, so that the production of gold with environmentally hazardous methods be reduced.

Berlin, October 10, 2001

Dr. Peter Struck and his parliamentary team

Kerstin Muller, Reco Schlauch, and their parliamentary team

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