Authorities in San Juan province have suspended activity at Barrick Gold’s Veladero mine after the company confirmed another cyanide spill on site.
The spill occurred on 8th September, days before the anniversary of the country’s worst ever mining leak, also by Barrick at the Veladero mine. However, details of the latest spill were only made public last night.
According to a statement from the company: “there was an incident in the tailings pond caused by a break in an 18″ pipeline containing [cyanide] solution. According to preliminary investigations, this break occurred after the pipe was struck by a chunk of ice.”
Barrick assured that the spill had not reached any local water source and claim that there “was no threat to the health of workers, local communities, or the environment.” The Canadian mining company also stated that the incident had not affected activity on the site.
However, in a late-night press conference, San Juan governor Sergio Uñac confirmed that the mine would be shut down to assess the magnitude of the spill and remain closed until it is certain that there are no risks from the spill.
News of the spill sparked a protest in the nearby town of Jáchal, where residents recalled how Barrick had attempted to cover up the details of last year’s spill before eventually admitting that over 1m litres of cyanide solution had flown into the local river system.
The Asamblea Jáchal No Se Toca released a statement yesterday: “We are disgusted by this recurring disaster, just one year after what diverse professionals have called the country’s worst ever environmental disaster related to mining activity. It is embarrassing that this situation is being repeated in the same place just one year later.”
The investigation into last year’s spill confirmed that at least three rivers were contaminated, and also discovered that three other spills had occurred without public knowledge. So far nine Barrick employees have been prosecuted, but local residents and environmental groups say the full extent of the damage has been covered up by the company with support from the provincial government.
The fact that it took six days for the news of this latest spill to be made public has only added to local scepticism. “We think we have a strong basis to be highly sceptical and suspicious of any control being carried out by the provincial government,” stated the assembly, which is organising another protest tonight to demand the mine be shut down completely.