The Jáchal river basin, near to where Barrick Gold spilled 1m litres of cyanide solution last month, is contaminated with heavy metals up to 1,400% above safe levels, a study by the National University of Cuyo found.
The study, called ‘The Barrick spill poisoned the water of San Juan’, found dangerously high levels of manganese, boron, sulphates, aluminium, chloride, and arsenic in water in Rio La Palca and Pueblo de Mogna. It also found high levels of E. coli bacteria.
The report was released around three weeks after the cyanide solution was spilled into the Potrerillos River.
Barrick Gold, the Candian mining company responsible for the spill at the Veladero mine in San Juan on 12/13th September, initially reported a leak of 224,000 litres, but later admitted the amount was over four times that.
The multinational company produces gold, copper, and silver in Argentina and it is no stranger to controversy. It has paid out some of the largest fines in history for damage to the environment and unethical conduct, including a fine of US$16.4m in Chile in 2013.
In a media release on 30th September, Barrick said: “Water samples analysed by an independent third-party laboratory have confirmed that there were no risks to the health of downstream communities as a result of this incident.”
Barrick Gold also said that “At no time did cyanide levels in the downstream river system near communities exceed 0.1 parts per million total cyanide, the legal limit for safe-drinking water in Argentina, and in line with international standards for drinking water.”
The university study also did not find elevated cyanide levels in the water, but it did conclude that the cyanide solution leached heavy metals in the ground and dragged them downstream.
However, the Mendoza-based university has come under fire by the governor of San Juan, Jose Luis Gioia.
“I have never seen the intent to harm the province of San Juan like I have now,” he said in a press conference on Tuesday about the report. “This is deliberately and falsely affecting San Juan with distorted information that is basically false.”
Requests for comment from Barrick were not returned before deadline.