For those who have been following the ongoing coverup story about the cyanide spill at Djibo dam, Burkina Faso, you may recall that I did promise to publish the correspondance between Avocet mining and myself, so here y’go.
Me: “please send me any corporate statement you wish to release about the cyanide spillage at Djibo dam on July 29th 2011.”
Avocet: “Happy to answer any questions you may have [whoopee!!]. As I am sure you know the spill was by Samsung and not Avocet and was in fact not at Inata.”
Me: “thanks for your response. Perhaps you could start by explaining why Avocet continue to use Cyanide, when its dangers are apparent, and its use in gold mining operations is now banned in some European countries?
Secondly, could you explain what measures are being taken by Avocet to ensure the safety of supply, as I understand this to be the third accident of this nature? Please also outline the measures that are being taken by Avocet against its contractors with regard to compensation.
Thirdly, can you confirm that the previous accidents to which I refer involved the same contractors?
Fourthly, as Avocet were active in clearing up the accident, please can you tell me what levels of contamination were measured, and what level of fish mortality & groundwater contamination were noted.
Please can you also clarify whether toxicity levels are still being checked, and if so how long that will continue for.
Finally, I would appreciate some clarification as to the extent of your communications in Burkina Faso about this event – local people and ex patriate British residents have reported that they dont know what the levels of contamination are/were and are reliant on the lack of dead bodies piling up to reassure themselves that deaths have not resulted from the spill.”
Avocet: “Please find attached our formal communique to the ministry of mine and the ministry of environmental affairs in Burkina Faso [uploaded here] that should answer most of your questions.
A bit of background on gold mining to assist with the question as to the use of cyanide. The use of cyanide to recover gold from its host rock is only method in place throughout the entire gold mining industry. This is because it is the only viable means to extract gold in economic quantities. So you can be sure that any gold item you use or have purchased has been recovered with the same method. Due to cyanide being a controlled substance and therefore not available to the public, artisanal miners often use mercury to recover gold. This is obviously not feasible in a large scale operation where the transportation and disposal of mercury would be prohibitively risky [unlike cyanide which is really safe] and expensive.
To the best of my knowledge the cyanide ban has not yet been put in place in Europe [actually it’s so flippin hazardous that it’s banned in a number of countries, and a number of US states, but it has managed not to get banned outright by the EU]. However if and when this ban comes into place, the most likely outcome will be that a gold concentrate is produced at mine sites which is then transported to a territory where the cyanide ban does not exist for final recovery of gold.”
Me: “…have you as a company actually investigated other alternatives to Cyanide (such as Thiosulphate), and if so, what are your reasons for staying with Cyanide?
…are Avocet a signatory to the International Cyanide Management code, if not, why not? And if so, who is your third party auditor?
With regard to your operation at Inata, can you please tell me how many tonnes of Cyanide are received there per week?
Avocet: “As per the report, the levels of cyanide in the water post the accident that the report covered, were marginal as at 4 August. So there is certainly no danger at this point in time of contamination from that event and I can only conclude that this is another unrelated event that the station is referring to or they are misinformed.
The use of Thiosulphate for commercial gold recovery has not yet been proven. Research is underway to determine how best to use this compound as an alternative to cyanide and certainly if and when this is proven , Avocet will evaluate whether a shift to this from cyanide is viable.”
Me: “do you have any knowledge of any ‘unrelated event’ relating to cyanide security at Inata?
…the thing I am really interested in right now, and would most appreciate your help with, is this mention in the report of two previous accidents.
Vehrad claim to have no knowledge of these incidents, but as Avocet are siting them in the report, there must be an official log of them. For the sake of transparency I would very much appreciate you letting me know the nature of these incidents, their locations and precisely when they happened.
If indeed Avocet are taking all necessary steps to ensure cyanide security and to hold their contractors to account, I would like to reflect that in further reporting.”
Avocet: “There have been no other cyanide leakages from deliveries to the Inata mine.
Have you contacted Samsung? Contact details are in the report. I really think they are best placed to comment on these issues for obvious reasons.”
– Actually I havent bothered with Samsung, because Steve Davies got there first, and got loads of help… ahem. I contacted Vehrad, they claimed to know nothing at all.
So I never got an answer to the question of these other two accidents, nobody wants to talk about that. Nor have I any reason why Avocet arent signed up to the industry Cyanide code (must be because their record is so flawless I suppose), or any details of the security arrangements, or even any idea how many tonnes are transported to the mine per week.
However, I feel inclined to keep trying, you never know, we may yet get some more answers.