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Turkish mine disaster: Cyanide, contamination and calls for safer alternatives

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A landslide on February 13th unleashed around 10 million cubic meters of soil, trapping workers beneath it. Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya reported the incident, highlighting the challenging search efforts due to cyanide present in the soil. This hazardous chemical, commonly used in gold extraction, complicated rescue operations. Anagold Madencilik, operated by Canada-based SSR Mining with an 80% stake, halted all activities at the site. Despite ongoing search efforts, nine workers remain missing. On April 5th, one worker’s body was found.

Following the incident, Çöpler’s environmental permit was revoked, leading to the suspension of operations. SSR Mining was instructed to focus on remediation efforts, starting with relocating heap leach material. The Turkish Ministry of Environment closely monitored the region for potential contamination, reporting no adverse effects initially.

Çöpler Mine had faced a cyanide leak in 2022, resulting in temporary closure. Despite fines and opposition, the mine resumed operations. Energy Minister Alparslan Bayraktar defended the site’s history of operation since 2004, claiming it received additional environmental permits in 2021.

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Calls for permanent closure from the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects echo environmental concerns. Cyanide, a potent chemical, poses significant risks to ecosystems if not managed properly. Several incidents worldwide, like the 2000 Tisza River disaster in Europe, prompted calls for stricter regulations.

Alternatives to cyanide leaching, like Dundee Sustainable Technologies’ CLEVR Process and Draslovka’s GlyCat, offer promising solutions. These methods aim to reduce environmental impact and enhance safety in gold extraction. Additionally, initiatives such as CSIRO’s ‘Going for Gold’ promote cyanide-free alternatives, contributing to sustainable mining practices.

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