Over a million liters (264 000 gallons) of toxic cyanide leaked into Potrerillos River, Argentina

Over a million liters (264 000 gallons) of toxic cyanide leaked into Potrerillos River, Argentina

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Over a million liters (264 172 gallons) of toxic cyanide solution has leaked from Barrick Gold's Veladero mine in western San Juan province, Argentina, newest estimation shows. Despite this being about five times higher amount than previously thought, federal judge lifted a ban prohibiting further cyanide solution pumping, on September 24, 2015.

The incident happened on September 12, 2015, and only 224 000 liters (59 175 gallons) of the toxic solution was reported to spill into the nearby Potrerillos River, initially. The leak was caused by a failing valve which caused the sliding gate to open and spill the cyanide solution into the river, despite all the emergency pools.

Cyanide solution is commonly used by mining companies to extract gold by filtrating it from processed rocks. 

The amount of spilt cyanide solution is currently estimated at about 1 072 million liters (283 192 gallons), according to newest company's report, which is five times more than originally estimated. Despite the revised estimate, Barrick insists the spill doesn't pose a health risk to the local residents.

To understand the magnitude of the spill, it is good to keep in mind that the Olympic-sized pool can only hold a volume of 2.5 million liters (660 430 gallons).

Cyanide leaching operations have been put on hold after the court order since the spill, and the company is currently in the process of carrying out upgrades to the mine to ensure that another spill doesn't happen.

Official court ordered investigation has established the water supplies for the surrounding town are safe to consume, however the ongoing tests will need to establish if aquifers have been contaminated by the toxic spill.

On September 24, federal judge Pablo Oritja announced that the leak had not contaminated water in the surrounding area and lifted a ban prohibiting the Canadian company from pumping cyanide solution for the leaching process.

Video credit: Vivo 8

The ban hasn't made a significant impact on the mine's production, as the company continued to use existing solution which had already been pumped into the leaching system.

The Veladero mine produced 20 468 kg (722 000 ounces) of gold during 2014 only, and will most likely continue to provide about 10% to Barrick's total gold output for 2015, RBS Capital said.

See also:

Video credit: Mildones Donia via YouTube

Featured image: Veladero mine, San Juan, Argentina. Image credit: Mildones Donia via YouTube

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