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Residents in the town of San José de Jáchal, in the province of San Juan, are demanding reassurances amid concerns that a cyanide spill from a mining project may have contaminated the local water supply.
Last night, after reports of the spill spread through social media, residents held an assembly outside the municipality headquarters of Jáchal. There were reports of people stockpiling bottled water as fears that drinking water could be affected.
Local authorities and Barrick Gold, which operates the Veladero mine where the incident occurred, acknowledged that a spill had occurred due to a technical fault, but stated that it posed no threat to public health.
In a statement released today the mining company confirmed that a spill had occurred but assured that it had been addressed and caused no health risks.
“In light of a series of unfounded statements, Barrick would like to inform that there was no contamination of the rivers in the Jáchal basin… We want to make absolutely clear that there was only material damage to a pipe that did not affect the health of workers,” read the statement.
“Our environmental team is investigating the causes of the incident and monitoring all the variables in the area. Work at the Veladero [gold mine] is continuing as normal and in strict according with security and environmental standards.”
Marcelo Ghiglione, Environment and Mining Control Secretary explained to local radio that a problem with a small valve in the pipeline caused a spill of cyanide solution. “[The spill] was quickly diluted in the natural run-off of the Potrerillos river and in the space of 1,600m had gone from 150 parts per million (ppm) to five ppm.
“There is no danger to the population, you can drink water anywhere. We are putting in the relevant controls so this will not happen again.”
The government added that it was taking samples from local rivers to provide reassurances for the public.
However, protesters called for another march at 8pm this evening in Jáchal and the provincial capital. The organisers state that they will seek answers, remedies, and demand that the government does not minimised the incident. They also call for the Veladero mine to be closed and for a “serious analysis” of the affected river basin.