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There, the pollution threatened rare birds and endangered fish like the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.EPA chief Scott Pruitt returned to the site at the beginning of August this year vowing to complete the clean-up after the agency had “walked away” from the problem.At a water treatment plant installed on the site, 500 gallons of mercury and arsenic-laced water a minute flow from the Gold King Mine.The clean-up could take a decade and has already cost the EPA m (£21m).Simply put: cyanidation involves mixing finely crushed ores (referred to as “sands” or, when water-based, “slimes”) in a weak cyanide solution (usually calcium cyanide).This solution is then mixed in large tanks and the gold separated from its ore body.Romania’s Prime Minister, Mihai Tudose, recently raised the prospect of reopening the country’s huge Rosia Montana goldfield.The area had been mined from Roman times until the last state-run operation closed in 2006.
The latter incident was described as Europe’s worst environmental disaster since Chernobyl.
The EPA has estimated that the cost of cleaning up just 156 mines in the US could be between bnand bn.
Clean-up on most sites will take decades – those with acid drainage will require water treatment in perpetuity.
The waste from cyanidation is a fine rock solution that is left in open air ponds while the concentration of acid is reduced to legal limits.
The risk here is from dam failure or breakages in the lining of waste ponds, which can lead to catastrophic spills or leakage through the porous land surface into the water table.
The process increases yields of gold but produces immense quantities of highly-toxic waste that releases acid and metals into the environment.