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Cyanide Be Gone! Keep Our Waterways Clean.


UPDATE: Mining Amendment (Cyanide Leaching) Bill 2004 was debated in Parliament in November 2004 and defeated.

Mining Amendment (Cyanide Leaching) Bill 2004
Click here for over 50 groups that have endorsed the Bill so far. 

The Mining Act 1992 is amended as set out in Schedule 1 Amendments (Insert after Section 238 of the Mining Act 1992)

[1] Section 238A Cyanide leaching

(1) It is a condition of every authority or mineral claim that ore processing by cyanide leaching is prohibited.

(2) The condition imposed by this section cannot be revoked, suspended or amended, either on renewal of the authority or mineral claim or otherwise.

(3) Nothing in this section limits any power of the Minister or mining registrar to impose other conditions on an authority or mineral claim.

(4) In this clause:

cyanide means hydrocyanic acid or any of its salts or derivatives.

cyanide leaching means the process of dissolving metals or metal compounds in a cyanide solution.

ore processing does not include the assessment or testing of samples under laboratory conditions.

Part 6 - Provisions Consequent on the Enactment of the Mining Amendment (Cyanide Leaching) Act 2004

Effect on existing authorities and mineral claims

(1) In this clause:

* cyanide leaching and ore processing have the same meaning as in section 238A.

* existing authority or mineral claim means an authority or mineral claim in force immediately before the commencement of the Mining Amendment (Cyanide Leaching) Act 2004.

(2) Section 238A does not apply to an existing authority or mineral claim in respect of which ore processing by cyanide leaching had commenced before 1 July 2004.

(3) An existing authority or mineral claim cannot be amended so as to alter the area to which it relates or the conditions to which it is subject, if the effect of the amendment would be to authorise ore processing by cyanide leaching, or the increased use of that process, under the authority or claim.

(4) Nothing in this clause limits any power of the Minister or mining registrar to impose any condition on an existing authority or mineral claim.


Premier Bob Carr at and a cc to, and

Dear Premier Carr,

I’m writing to you to express my support for "Mining Amendment (Cyanide Leaching) Bill 2004" which is being brought to Parliament as a matter of urgency on October 19, 2004.

Cyanide is lethal. It's use in gold mining puts humans, precious waterways, flora and fauna seriously at risk as leaks and spills from mines are frequent. Since the year 2000, dozens of incidences involving cyanide leaks and spills have been reported worldwide sometimes wiping out entire river systems as in the case of the Tisza and Danube Rivers in Romania and Hungary.

In Northern NSW at the Timbarra gold mine (2001), there were overflows from the wastewater ponds into the surrounding creeks on a number of occasions; this despite the mine being touted by government officials as a world’s best practice mine. These spillages would have been disastrous were it not for the fact that the mine was already inoperable.

Cyanide transport is also high risk. An estimated 6000 tonnes of cyanide per year will be transported from Queensland to the Lake Cowal gold mine. For at least 8 years, 25 tonnes of cyanide will be trucked to the site most days of the week. According to the NSW RTA, on average, 1 out of 10 trucks has an accident each year. In February 2002, 400L of liquefied cyanide was spilled in the Northern Territory, killing 500 birds and other wildlife during transportation. A 10 percent probability of a cyanide-laden truck accident on the way to Lake Cowal is unacceptable.

While cyanide leaching is cost efficient, it is an extremely hazardous process. This is being increasingly recognised by governments around the world as they legislate to stop cyanide leach mining. In 1997, the Turkish Supreme Court restricted cyanide use in gold mining due to environmental and health concerns. In the US, the state of Montana has banned cyanide leach technology in gold and silver mining. Other countries which have enacted this prohibition include Germany, The Czech Republic, Costa Rica and various regions in the US, Argentina, Greece and Ecuador.

I urge you to support Mining Amendment (Cyanide Leaching) Bill 2004 to ensure that we can protect the environment and communities from unnecessary risks such as the one posed by the Cowal Gold Project.Sincerely,

ORGANIZATION (if applicable)


The glitter of gold has been driving a new gold rush around the world. Despite the drop in the price of gold, world gold mine production grew 3 percent in 1998 to reach 82 million ounces. Since the 80’s we’ve seen a new era of gold fever, with prospectors swarming to alluvial deposits in various developing countries including Brazil, Venezuela and the Philippines. Today, world-wide production amounts to about 2,500 tonnes annually more than double production in the year 1980. Here in Australia, we reached a record high last year of 316 tonnes of gold mined.


Much of this boom is the result of a remarkable technological revolution, the new use on gold ores of an old mining technology called "heap-leaching," in which chemicals to remove the gold are sprayed on vast open-air piles of ore. First used on a large scale in the 1970s, cyanide heap leach mining allows miners to coax microscopic gold flecks from low-grade ore. Cyanide is now the chemical of choice in the gold industry throughout the world. More than 90 percent of the 2500 tons of annual global gold production is extracted using this chemical.

In a typical heap leach operation, huge quantities of rock are crushed and piled atop clay and plastic liners in huge decks. A sodium cyanide solution is then sprayed onto the pile. As the solution passes through the rock layers, it teases the gold out of the ore where it is collected at the bottom and processed further. Cyanide combines with up to 97% of the gold, including particles of gold that are too small to be seen by the naked eye. As little as 1 ounce of gold can be extracted from 3,000,000 ounces of the low grade ore. Previously this ore may have been thought to be too low grade to extract gold from, but with cyanide, tiny bits of gold can be extracted.


Cyanide is a toxic chemical – one teaspoon of two percent cyanide solution can cause death in humans. Today this dangerous chemical is used in gold extraction operations from Greece to Ghana. It has left a sorry legacy of environmental disasters in countries ranging from Guyana to Kyrgyzstan and the USA. In heap mining, the cyanide waste that’s left over is stored in ponds with thin liners that are only 1.5 mm thick and these can leak or break. It is not unusual to have spills of cyanide solution and heavy metal-laced water that can contaminate ground water, kill fish and waterfowl, and contaminate drinking water. This threatens public health and land alike.

In 1992, cyanide spilled from the Brewer gold mine in South Carolina and poured into the Lynches River where over 11,000 fish were killed along an 80 kilometre stretch of the river.

In 1995, some 3.2 billion litres of cyanide-laden tailings flooded the Essequibo river in Guyana when a dam broke at the Omai gold mine, operated by Cambior of Canada.

While the mining industry likes to highlight the fact that cyanide breaks down rapidly in sunlight, in fact, cyanide decomposes into other chemicals which are also toxic to fish and river life. Some of these chemicals can last for a long time in river systems. The mining industry usually does not test for these breakdown chemicals.


In February, 2000 in Romania, there was a break in a cyanide saturated tailings dam. Tonnes of water laced with cyanide and heavy metals spilled from the containment reservoir operated by the Aurul gold mine near Baia Mare, and entered a nearby creek spreading into the Tisza and Danube rivers. The spill was described by Hungarian officials as the worst environmental disaster to afflict the region since the leak from Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power station in 1986. An estimated 150 tonnes of fish died, drinking water has been affected and scientists fear the cyanide and heavy metal residue could remain for decades to come.

Esmerelda, the Australian gold mining company responsible for the Romanian operation has admitted that 100 million litres of cyanide-contaminated water spilt into a cross-border river system in Romania but they continue to deny that the spill was linked to an environmental disaster 75 kilometres downstream in Hungary where cyanide levels were reported at more than 700 times acceptable levels, in what scientists are calling a "wave of death".

Fish, wildlife, micro-organisms and plants were killed the length of one of Central Europe's most important river systems. Hungary alone pulled 85 tonnes of dead fish from the Tisza. This spells economic wipeout for the thousands of fishermen and tourist operators who depend on these rivers.


The Lake Cowal Gold Project is scheduled to commence in the March of 2005. 6000 tonnes of cyanide would be transported each year to the site and used to leach less than 1 gram of gold per tonne of rock. Lake Cowal is a high conservation area, listed on Australia Diretory of Important Wetlands as well as the Register of the National Estate. Lake Cowal is the Sacred Heartland of the Wiradjuri Nation. Learn more here.

In addition to the Cowal Gold Project, there are 5 other mines in New South Wales which use cyanide leach mining technology.  These are New England Antimony, Peak Hill, Mineral Hill, The Peak and Burdekin/McKinnons.


The environmental risks we take are huge in light of the fact that approximately 78% of newly mined gold each year goes towards jewelry fabrication – rings, bracelets, earrings etc. In the United States, demand for gold jewelry continues to rise (a record 28% in the first quarter of 1999) what with many unsuspecting consumers wishing to fit the image of wealth and status as portrayed by the media. It is these high demands for jewelry that legitimate the large scale gold mining industry’s further exploitation of the resource.

Plus with over 35,000 tons of gold reserves in the world's central banks, there’s enough gold to cover demand for primary metal at the current levels of use for more than 14 years. If our consumption of gold jewelry were significantly reduced, the gold stored in reserves could last us for close to a century. We simply don’t need to mine any new gold, let alone with the use of cyanide leach technology.


The design requirements for the use of cyanide heap leach methods are inadequate and the inspection procedures are nominal. Enforcement and penalties are less than lip-service. We need tougher regulations and inspection procedures.

In Turkey, some 700 villagers in the western town of Bergama filed a lawsuit against the Environment Ministry, asking for a halt to the operations of a Canadian-Australian gold mining firm called Eurogold which was using cyanide leaching technology. In 1997, The Turkish Supreme Court ruled in favor of legislation that restricts cyanide use in gold mining on the grounds that it violates the Turkish Constitutional guarantee to a healthy and intact environment.

A year later, in November 1998, in Montana, USA a statewide initiative was passed that bans any new gold or silver mines that use cyanide leach mining technology. Since 1982, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality has recorded six significant cyanide spills and leaks in Montana including a release of 50,000 gallons of cyanide solution in north-central Montana that contaminated a public drinking-water supply for the town of Zortman. There have been as many as 60 cyanide leaks since the early 1980s in Montana.

The Rainforest Information Centre (Australia) has formed an international gold mining coalition composed of over 40 groups worldwide. We’ve launched a campaign to ban the use of cyanide leach mining technologies. Here in our home state of New South Wales, The Greens NSW are bringing for a Bill in Parliament (October, 2004)as a matter of urgency to halt cyanide from being transported and used as a leaching agent.

We’re working to spread this campaign globally. Please get together with like-minded individuals in your country and ask your government to ban cyanide leach mining.


* Boycott gold and silver jewelry made from newly mined gold

* Lobby your government for a ban on cyanide leach mining.

* Spread the word amongst your friends and colleagues that all that glitters is not gold.

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