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MEI Online: Environmental Issues: Latest News: June 23rd 2003

 
    
:: Cyanide Risk Project  

The Mining Association of Canada (MAC) has unveiled A Guide to Developing an Operation, Maintenance and Surveillance (OMS) Manual for Tailings and Water Management Facilities, to assist the mining industry worldwide in ensuring the safety and integrity of its tailings and water management facilities.

IRCYL is the Investigation of the Risk of Cyanide in Gold Leaching on Health and Environment in Central Asia and Central Europe and its latest workshop was held in London at the beginning of June. The first had been held in October 2000 at Cluj-Napoca, Romania and the second, a year later in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

The project is investigating the health effects of accidental cyanide spills and the administration of hypochlorite with two epidemiological studies on vulnerable groups (children, their mothers and elderly women) from an exposed and a reference area in Kyrgyzstan respectively, in Romania. The study is assembling and measuring exposure data, including a standardised questionnaire and biomarkers, to assess the exposure to cyanide, hypochlorite and other compounds and to estimate the health effects of these spills. To quantify the individual exposure, activity patterns will be evaluated according to the pathways of exposure (oral, dermal, inhalative). The exposure to heavy metals has to be assessed in northwest Romania. IRCYL is analysing the management and appropriateness of the responses to the accidents in Kyrgyzstan and Romania and developing expertise in disaster medicine for minimising exposure and health effects in any future case of an accidental cyanide spill.

Recommendations are being developed for the informational and organisational management of cyanide disasters to reduce the exposure of the affected population to toxic compounds. This expertise should be available under a rapid and free access via Internet presentation. The project will develop a comprehensive review of gold extraction technologies and their risks and costs for environment and health. Of special interest is the critical evaluation of the cyanide leaching technology with respect to technological alternatives. The study will recommend criteria for a best environmental practice based on case studies and on measurements of toxic compounds in gold mine wastewaters. Special emphasis is given to the removal of cyanide from the environment, to the avoidance of toxic byproducts of this procedure and of toxic side-effects of medical treatments with antidotes. Risk communication was established between stakeholders by the two workshops in Romania and Kyrgyzstan and through networking.
Transboundary impact of the Baia Mare spill is being assessed with respect to environment, economy and environmental legislation in Central Europe. The work includes a brief estimation of the rivers ecosystem damage, pathways of pollutants into the life cycle and into the food chain and estimation of groundwater and well contamination in the Baia Mare area with cyanide and heavy metals. National and European legislation and policy is being considered with an emphasis on transboundary issues. Networking and data exchange is important, including local EPAs, NGOs, health and local authorities, research institutes and interested mining companies. The feasibility of an extensive follow-up study of long-term exposure to pollutants from mining and smelting activities will be considered for northwest Romania.

The main participant organisations are the Medical Institute for Environmental Hygiene Duesseldorf, Germany; Imperial College London Consultants, UK; Infomine Russian Federation; National Cancer Center, Kyrgyzstan; Kyrgyz Scientific Center of Haematology, Kyrgyzstan; Kyrgyz Institute for Regional Studies, Kyrgyzstan; Physico-Chemical Methods Analysis Center, Almaty, Kazakhstan; University Babes-Bolyai Cluj, Romania; Institute of Public Hygiene Cluj, Romania; Institute of Analytical Instrumentation Cluj, Romania; North University Baia Mare, Romania; CEPROMIN Deva, Romania.

The overall objective of IRCYL is the analysis of the risk of the cyanide leaching technology for health and environment exemplified by the investigation of an accidental cyanide incident of the Kumtor gold mine, near Barskaun (Kyrgyzstan) on May 20, 1998, and of the most recent and most severe spill of an estimated amount of 100 t of cyanide in about 100,000 m3 tailings from the Aurul/Esmeralda gold mine near Baia Mare in Northwest Romania in January 2000. This dam rupture caused an ecological disaster in Central Europe of transboundary extent. The contaminated waste water was released into the Săsar river after an overflow and leakage of the Aurul dam due to heavy precipitations. The further transport of cyanide and metallo-cyanide complexes into the Somes/Szamos, Tisa/Tisza - Danube river system had disastrous consequences for the ecosystems not only in Romania, but transboundary implications for Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria and Ukraine. Therefore, IRCYL will investigate the impact of incidents from gold leaching with cyanide on health and environment in Central Asia and Central Europe:

  • To cover an exposure assessment of the Barskaun and Baia Mare cyanide spills, especially of the exposure to cyanide, hypochlorite and their possible compounds, based on measurements of expert commissions assembled at the time of event to investigate the environmental impact, and on specified measurements during the project in Romania with special focus on exposure to heavy metals and metallo-cyanide complexes (environmental monitoring); to estimate the extent of contamination of wells, groundwater and the effect on the ecosystem and to cover a brief exposure assessment extended to the Central European ecosystem
  • To assess the human exposure to cyanide and cyanide-related compounds and the health risk based additionally on questionnaire data (individual exposure patterns) and biological exposure markers (biomonitoring) for vulnerable subgroups with an epidemiological study
  • To establish a Kyrgyz and a Romanian cohort for the investigation of chronic health effects and for the feasibility of an extensive study of the polluted Romanian area
  • To evaluate the management of the Barskaun and Baia Mare spills for improved guidelines for the management of cyanide spills with special emphasis on the reduction the exposure duration and the development of expertise in disaster medicine
  • To assess and quantify the environmental and health risk of the cyanide-based gold extraction technology with respect to technological alternatives for the best environmental practice
  • To consider the environmental legislation and funding of mining projects by the implementation of scenarios of accidental cyanide spills with respect to transboundary implications.

The transport of the Baia Mare pollution via the Central European rivers into the medium and lower Danube system, thus affecting not only Romania, but also Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria and Ukraine, raises specific transboundary ecological problems. A specific and new focus of the extension of this cyanide-related risk assessment is the establishment of an inventory of the environmental effects on the exposed ecosystems and the implication for the environmental policy and legislation of cyanide use in gold mining.

With the inclusion of the investigation of the Romanian disaster, IRCYL allows comparison of the health effects of these two cyanide-related accidents, considering differences in the health effects and exposure to other toxic agents.

IRCYL will provide a comprehensive review of the technologies for gold extraction, also taking into account the risks and costs to health and environment of the series of disasters. Since 1995, at least nine spills of cyanide have been reported from mining activities, with three spills in 1998 alone.

 

   

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