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The Cyanide Code: Moving Towards a Safer and More Sustainable Way of Mining Gold

September 17, 2020

Photo by mali maeder from Pexels

Updated August 24, 2021

Cyanide is a naturally occurring chemical, found in many plants, that has been used in conventional warfare and poisoning for thousands of years. It's highly lethal in various forms, such as inhaled as a gas, ingested as a solid, or absorbed through topical exposure. However, cyanide can also easily combine with many metals – making it useful in separating metals like gold from their ore. Currently, a sodium cyanide solution is commonly used to leach gold from ore by heap leaching and vat (or tank) leaching. However, cyanide’s efficiency makes mining more wasteful and thus, it’s important to try to minimize the substantial environmental impacts and public health risks if released into a given area. That’s where the Cyanide Code comes in. 

What is the Cyanide Code?

The Cyanide Code is a voluntary initiative for operational mines, producers and transporters, to know and understand best practices for cyanide management in gold and silver mining. Certification of operational mines (9 core principles) and supply chains (3 core principles) require regular auditing in accordance with the ICMI Cyanide Code. The audits are undertaken by certified Cyanide Code auditors. The Cyanide Code Principles objectives ensures Environmental and Human Health Protection and it also offers many mines the opportunity to demonstrate trust and credibility around key ESG (environmental, social and governance) aspects.

Which Part of the Cyanide Code is the Most Important?

Essentially, every part of the Cyanide Code is important. During the audit process, every aspect of the operations is being examined, for instance, reviewing the verification report, walking around heap leach, checking the tailings pond, ensuring that staff are aware of safety standards and receive appropriate training such as cyanide awareness, cyanide task training and emergency response to cyanide accidents/incidents. The Cyanide Code is implemented and practiced worldwide very successfully.

What're the Benefits of Having a Cyanide Audit?

Often, stakeholders like investors and financiers do not understand how cyanide is being managed in the mining industry. Compliance with the Cyanide Code is a demonstration that best practices are implemented and observed. For all mining companies, implementing the Cyanide Code principles and standards confirms a commitment to achieving high management standards for cyanide to the local community, government, environment agencies and other stakeholders that Health & Safety and environmental protection is of high priority. Adhering to the Code and its ethics has helped many mines to build trust and work towards obtaining their Social License to Operate.

How Can Technologies Provide the Most Value to Mining Companies?

In most mines, sampling and testing are carried out every two hours. However, most technologies are very slow and tedious and require a lot of maintenance, such as silver nitrate titration. Having instantaneous cyanide results like the solution that CyanoGuard offers helps to cut down on testing time and alert the mine operator to any changes in the balance of cyanide. CyanoGuard is quick and easy to use, therefore it could carry out cyanide monitoring more often and can be particularly important for environmental testing, where real-time testing results can help ensure that cyanide levels in tailings are within safety limits, without having to wait for days to get the results.

Examples of CyanoGuard Helping Mining Clients Comply with the Cyanide Code

CyanoGuard’s device is a “plug-and-play” solution which can be implemented almost immediately and does not cause any downtime or interruption to mining operations. Only a minimum amount of sample (1 ml) is required for the device to make a measurement and is, therefore, safe and non-hazardous to the operator (Code 4.1). CyanoGuard’s digital solution provides real-time alerts (e.g. SMS, phone and WhatsApp) for results that are outside defined limits (Code 7.4). This critical alert feature cuts down the response time to incidents and can even prevent possible cyanide incidents from occurring in the first place. Efficient cyanide control also helps lower cyanide consumption while keeping gold recovery rates (Code 4.2). Mines will witness reductions in overall operational cost and environmental footprint as a result of lower consumption in cyanide, detox reagents and water consumption (Code 4.3).

If you’d like to learn more about the Cyanide Code, then have a look at our webinar featuring Christine Blackmore, Associate Director at Wardell Armstrong International and ICMI-accredited Lead Auditor for the cyanide code. 

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