MAC: Mines and Communities

New Cyanide Spill, Hijacking of Cyanide Truck are Grim

Published by MAC on 2002-05-17

New Cyanide Spill, Hijacking of Cyanide Truck are Grim Reminders of Risks

Special session needed to ban cyanide in mining, conservation groups say

May 17, 2002

Dave Blouin, Sierra Club - John Muir Chapter

Zoltan Grossman, Wolf Watershed Educational Project,

Linda Sturnot, Mining Impact Coalition of WI,

"The hijacking of ten tons of deadly cyanide en route to a mine and a new accidental spill of 24,000 gallons of cyanide solution at a Nevada mine are grim reminders of the risks of using cyanide in Wisconsin mines," said Dave Blouin, Sierra Club state mining committee chair. "Cyanide is not being used in northern Wisconsin now; why make it easier for a spill to happen whether accidental or deliberate?"

Conservation groups again called on Gov. Scott McCallum to call a special session to ban the use of cyanide in mining. "BHP Billiton wants to use 200 tons of cyanide a year at its proposed mine near Crandon, Linda Sturnot, Vice President of the Mining Impact Coalition of WI. "But there are safer chemicals they could use to process the ore."

"These two new incidents - a hijacking and yet another spill - show the risks of trucking huge amounts of cyanide through Wisconsin to the headwaters of the Wolf River," said Zoltan Grossman, of the Wolf Watershed Educational Project. "The Assembly Environment Committee refused to even hold a hearing after the Senate passed a bill to ban cyanide in
mining. We're now calling on Gov. McCallum to take action by calling a special session." The legislation to ban cyanide in Wisconsin mining has become an election year issue and will also be reintroduced in the 2003 legislative session.

A truckload of 21,120 pounds of sodium cyanide was hijacked in Mexico by three men with guns last Friday. The hijacking took place some 500 miles south of Brownsville, Texas. On Wednesday, the FBI alerted law enforcement agencies in the U.S. this week to be on the lookout for the truck, according to Fox News. The truck was found on Thursday and there were unconfirmed reports that some of the cyanide was missing. (Note - as May 17, cyanide from the hijacked truck has been confirmed as missing.)

In a separate incident in Nevada on Saturday, 24,000 gallons of cyanide solution were spilled at a mining facility owned by Newmont Mining Company. A Nevada official said 10,000 gallons entered a creek.

"Both these incidents are grim reminders that bad things happen - sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally. Sometimes it's at a mine site, sometimes on the road," Blouin said. The owner of the proposed Crandon mine spilled cyanide twice at U.S. mines in recent years including a 13,000 pound spill of cyanide in Arizona. In another accident, it spilled 300,000 cubic yards of mine wastes into an Arizona creek.

But crimes and accidents with cyanide are preventable. "Canadian mines are successfully processing the same types of ore that would be processed at Crandon without using cyanide," Sturnot said. "It's time for Gov. McCallum and the Assembly to protect Wisconsin's people and Wisconsin's environment from an unneeded risk."

The application for the proposed Crandon mine would allow the owner to use between 14,000 and 36,000 pounds of sodium cyanide per month or between 5 million and 13 million pounds over the life of the mine.

The mean lethal dose of cyanide for humans is 50 to 200 mg, or 0.0001 to 0.0004 pounds. The amount toxic to aquatic life is much smaller.

According to Fox News, the FBI alert on the cyanide hijacking says, "When mixed with any type of acid, sodium cyanide produces a lethal toxic gas that would have disastrous impact on a broad geographic area. If sodium cyanide catches fire it produces toxic gases that are difficult to extinguish."

"The security of cyanide shipments is not a new concern, and has only heightened with a series of incidents in the past eight months," said Grossman. "These incidents include a series of arrests in Italy, Germany, and Chicago, and the discovery of cyanide in al-Qaeda labs in Afghanistan." Many of these incidents are documented in the link below.

39 Wisconsin counties, cities and local governments, and 59 Wisconsin Tribes, labor unions, sportfishing, conservation and environmental organizations have passed resolutions supporting a ban on cyanide in Wisconsin mines. In addition, more than 17,000 Wisconsin residents have signed petitions supporting the ban on cyanide.

For Background Information:

Wisconsin Campaign to Ban Cyanide in Mining
Security of cyanide transportation

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