Last September’s cyanide spill at the Veladero mine owned by Barrick Gold contaminated five rivers in the region, according to a federal court commissioned report.
On 13th September, over one million litres – the equivalent of four Olympic pools – of a cyanide solution roared into the Potrerillos River from the San Juan mine. A week later, the Canadian company initially said “no risks to human health were identified” and “no cyanide has been detected in the river system downstream from the mine since 15th September”, but nine Barrick Gold employees were ultimately indicted on environmental pollution charges.
The newly-published study, carried out by the federal police’s Department of Environmental Crimes, investigated the spill and whether officials were liable in it. It found “a clear violation of the law [on hazardous waste] for causing pollution in Potrerillos, Jachal, Blanco, Palca, and Las Taguas rivers”. The report added “all samples analysed, whether liquid or solid, showed the presence of total cyanide” and in some cases at levels higher than the legal limit. It also found the same for other heavy metals, echoing the findings of an earlier report by the National University of Cuyo.
That report, released three weeks after the spill, found dangerously high levels of manganese, boron, sulphates, aluminium, chloride, and arsenic in two bodies of water, but it did not find elevated cyanide levels. It was criticised by the governor of San Juan, José Luis Gioia.
“I have never seen the intent to harm the province of San Juan like I have now. This is deliberately and falsely affecting San Juan with distorted information that is basically false,” he said at the time.
The new report found “dangerous contaminants” in the water “which seriously threaten biodiversity”, adding that it was a “clear violation of the law”. It is unclear what legal repercussions the report has had or will have.
The Veladero mine is an open-pit operation that produced over 17 tonnes of gold last year. Barrick Gold recently announced plans to spend US$640m to extend its Lagunas Norte project in Peru.