For more than 120 years, cyanide has been part of mineral extraction processes, primarily in gold extraction from ores. Although it is a toxic substance, it is still a quick and easy way to separate gold and silver particles—along with low concentrations and proper use. However, over the years, there have been instances where the use of cyanide has contributed to events that have caused irreversible damage to the environment.
One of the most notable examples is the cyanide leak that occurred in Romania in the year 2000. The incident killed large numbers of fish in Hungary and Yugoslavia, prompting most countries to ban the use of it in mining. However, cyanide is still a significant part of mining today. But what are good reasons for mining companies to stop using cyanide in modern-day mining? Here are some examples.
1. Naturally Toxic to Humans
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the agency overseeing mining regulations in the United States, cyanide is a naturally occurring toxic chemical. It means that cyanide is not artificial but a naturally-occurring compound released into the environment through normal processes. It also means that it is harmful to humans.
For centuries, this toxic compound has been used to assist miners in extracting metals from ore. It is commonly used to separate silver and gold from the rest of the ore materials. The process is called amalgamation, wherein cyanide is applied to the ore to strip silver and gold. Most commonly, this chemical is derived from the cell walls of the microbe, algae, and bacteria.
2. Potential for Health Issues Even in Low Levels
Aside from cyanide being naturally toxic to humans, it’s essential to consider that the substance is also very easy to inhale. The easily-absorbed chemical enters the bloodstream and combines with plasma proteins and iron when inhaled. This compound, known as the Prussian blue, can cause harm to the internal organs and lead to heart, liver, and kidney failure, not to mention death.
3. Adverse Health Effects
Because cyanide has been used in mining for decades, the long-term effects that it can have on people’s health are well-understood. One of the most common adverse health effects of chronic exposure to cyanide is neuropathy, when the brain, spinal cord, and nerve tissue is damaged and degraded. The result is that neuropathy is manifested through the loss of sensation in the feet and hands and loss of balance and coordination.
4. Not For Irresponsible Mining Companies
Although cyanide is a popular substance for use in mining, it is easy to abuse, which leads to adverse consequences on the environment and people’s health. Good mining companies will always take responsibility for the use of cyanide in the workplace.
One way to do this is to make sure that there are policies to enforce the use of safety and protective equipment. Also, it’s essential to encourage employees to report any safety concerns that may lead to environmental damage. Companies must establish an environment where employees feel safe enough to say such problems.
Cyanide compounds have been used in mining for more than a century, but it’s easy to see that the substance is toxic to humans. It’s not a question of if it will cause adverse health effects, but when. For mining companies that make use of cyanide, it’s essential to have policies in place that keep workers safe and work together with the EPA to establish the necessary regulatory measures to protect the environment.
Group 11 Technologies aims to promote environmentally-friendly mineral extraction processes worldwide. Our goal is to ensure that the environment stays safe despite the need to mine for natural resources using the mineral extraction technology the world has established. Learn more about helping the environment and becoming responsible miners by reading on our website today.