Cyanide from mine threatens Guyana river
Wednesday 23 August 1995
Latin America Correspondent
Cyanide-saturated waste from Guyana's biggest gold mine was gushing into the former British colony's major river yesterday, threatening loggers, native Indians, wildlife and fish along the way. Those who live along the jungled banks of the Essequibo river rely on it for their drinking water and it is renowned for its fishing.
The accident could also close down South America's second-biggest gold mine for up to a year, a potential economic disaster for a small nation which gets a quarter of its revenue from the mine.
Cyanide is used to extract gold from ore. Afterwards, the highly poisonous residue had been stored in a "reservoir" at the Omai gold mine, 100 miles south-west of the capital, Georgetown, ever since the mine began production in January 1993.
There were around three million cubic metres of cyanide-tainted waste in the reservoir when the dam separating it from the Omai river cracked early on Sunday.
The waste gushed down the river and on into the Essequibo, the country's biggest, which runs to the Atlantic.
Canadian mining engineers sent by the Quebec-based Canadian company Cambior - which owns most of the mine in partnership with the American firm Golden Star Resources of Denver - were trying to build a new dam on the Omai river yesterday to stem the flow. By midnight on Monday, an estimated 1.25 million cubic metres of waste - almost half the total in the reservoir - had poured out.
The authorities sent out helicopters and foot patrols to distribute drinking water and warn Indians and others along the banks not to drink, fish or bathe in the affected rivers.
Omai Gold Mines Ltd - the two foreign firms plus the Guyana government with a 5- per-cent share - sacrificed its most productive part of the mine, known as the Fennel Pit, to allow the engineers to divert some of the waste.
By yesterday afternoon, there were no reports of casualties and no sign of dead fish on the Essequibo but a net had been thrown across the narrow, twisting Omai river to keep contaminated fish in.
Ecologists were not satisfied. Taking up the mantle of the environmental movement, the small opposition party Working People's Alliance organised a "citizens' picket" yesterday outside the mining company's Georgetown headquarters.
The party called on the government of Prime Minister Sam Hinds to declare an environmental disaster, close down the mines completely and prosecute the operators.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
- 1 World Cup 2014: 20 things we learned in Brazil
- 2 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 3 War is war: Why I stand with Israel
- 4 L'Oreal cuts ties with Belgium supporter Axelle Despiegelaere after hunting trip photographs
Game of Thrones author George RR Martin says 'f*** you' to fans who fear he will die before finishing Westeros saga
Ian Thorpe gay: Olympic swimmer comes out in Parkinson interview
Pamplona bull run: Man who contributed to a survival guide for the festival falls foul of the raging beasts
Israel-Gaza conflict: William Hague calls for ceasefire but says Israel 'has the right to defend itself'
Supermoon 2014: When and why will the moon look bigger and brighter this summer?
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’
£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...
£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...
£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...
£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...