Barrick’s Veladero gold mine in Argentina halted over cyanide leak

Barrick’s Veladero gold mine in Argentina halted over cyanide leak

Veladero, one of the largest gold mines in Argentina, produced 722,000 ounces of the precious metal last year. (Image courtesy of Barrick Latin America)

An Argentine court has ordered a five-day suspension of the gold leaching process at Barrick Gold Corp's (TSX, NYSE:ABX) Veladero mine to determine whether there was any environmental damage from a cyanide leak triggered by a faulty valve.

According to local newspaper La Nación (in Spanish), the judge also ruled that a group of independent specialists should inspect the mine and take samples of soil, water and nearby vegetation.

The San Juan provincial government recommended inhabitants of three towns located near Veladero to "avoid and/or reduce their consumption of water from the [nearby] Blanco River" as a precautionary measure until further tests are conducted.

Barrick acknowledged the incident in a statement Wednesday, saying the leak was caused by a faulty valve on a pipe carrying solution with cyanide between Veladero’s leach pad and the processing plant.

“Our focus is now on ensuring a safe and comprehensive response to this incident,” it added.

The company noted it has found no evidence of contamination in surrounded rivers since Sunday, when the leakage occurred, and that the faulty valve had already been replaced.

However, locals are up in arms for what they call “inconsistent messages,” according to La Nación. They refer to the fact that while both Barrick and the San Juan Mining Chamber claim the spill poses no threat to the population, the provincial government has called locals to only drink bottled water until further notice.

Veladero, one of the largest gold mines in Argentina, produced 722,000 ounces of gold in 2014.