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Company proposes controversial use of cyanide in community after decades of mining: 'It's a question of, do we trust them?'

"This is not responsible."

"This is not responsible."

Photo Credit: iStock

Piles of waste left over from decades of mining surround the town of Leadville, Colorado. Now, the Denver Post reports that a local company wants to use cyanide to extract gold and silver from those piles. 

CJK Milling, the company behind the project, says that afterward the land will be returned to its natural state. As one activist explained, "It's a question of, do we trust them? It's an honor system … "

What's happening?

Mining waste has been a fact of life in Leadville since the first gold rush in 1860. While there hasn't been an active mine in the region since 1999, residents have long lived with abandoned piles of ore. 

CJK Milling owns more than one million tons of that waste. The company wants to extract any leftover silver or gold from it. The problem? It proposes to transport it by truck to a nearby milling facility where the extraction process uses approximately 600 pounds of toxic cyanide every day. 

The company claims that the process is safe and the cyanide cannot get out of the facility. Residents are concerned about cyanide in their local landscape, especially in the nearby Arkansas River. There are also concerns about increased truck traffic in town. 

Why is mining cleanup important?

When the Gold Rush spread across the American West, the population there was very small. Now, much of that land is inhabited, and even more people visit those areas every year. 

Both piles of mining waste and their cleanup affect the lives of all who enjoy these areas. While there are benefits to returning the land to its natural state, using potentially toxic chemicals to do that may have more drawbacks than benefits. 

Cyanide is a naturally occurring substance, but using it to extract gold from low-grade ore has the potential to contaminate drinking water. Cyanide spills associated with projects like this one have previously caused cyanide poisoning in plants and animals and has the potential to do so in humans, too.  

What's being done about mining cleanup with cyanide?

In Leadville, the Concerned Citizens for Lake County have filed opposing comments with the department that needs to approve permits for the project. One group member noted, "We're not opposed to responsible industrial development, but this is not responsible."

Government organizations have also realized the importance of mine cleanup. The Bureau of Land Management has developed the Abandoned Mines Land Program to assess and restore lands affected by mining that it controls. 

Concerned individuals can learn about mining in their area and get involved with local conservation groups. They can also consider any purchases they make that contain precious metals (like electronics) and find out how clean the sourcing process is for them.

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