BUENOS AIRES – Nine current and former Barrick Gold employees will continue to be investigated as suspects in the release of more than 1 million liters (around 283,000 gallons) of processing solution containing cyanide at the Veladero gold mine in the western Argentine province of San Juan, sources with the Canadian mining giant told EFE on Thursday.
San Juan-based Judge Pablo Oritja issued his ruling – made public on Thursday – after finding that the suspects acted negligently and that hazardous waste regulations were violated in last year’s incident.
Barrick’s Argentine unit responded by issuing a statement denying that any crime was committed and indicating that the accused will appeal the ruling.
“It’s important to highlight that the circumstances that triggered the incident were immediately resolved. The company implemented an action plan that corrected the causal factors ... and strengthened controls,” the statement said.
It added that following those actions authorities authorized the resumption of work at the mine.
“The incident posed no risk to people’s health or the environment,” the subsidiary of the Toronto-based mining company said.
Those affected by the court’s ruling are current and former managers and supervisors in the processing, risk prevention, and technical, maintenance and environmental services areas, according to local media.
The spill occurred on Sept. 12, 2015, due to a valve failure on a pipe carrying processing solution consisting mainly of fresh water and a small portion of diluted cyanide, an internal investigation found.
Some 1,072 cubic meters (283,208 gallons) of solution entered one of the mine’s diversion channels, which has a gate that should have been closed but was open at the time, the company said in a statement last September, adding that the open gate allowed the solution to bypass a containment pond and enter the Potrerillos River.
The company said then, however, that “at no time did cyanide levels in the downstream river system near communities exceed 0.1 parts per million total cyanide, the legal limit for safe drinking water in Argentina.”