Without a doubt, gold mining can be a boon for local economies – but only if it’s done responsibly. If the operation is poorly planned or managed, the disastrous results won’t be worth the gold recovered.
A strong example of this would be the cyanide spill that occurred in Baia Mare, Romania back in 2000 – which many experts consider to be the worst European environmental disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
Aurul, a joint-venture of Australian company Esmeralda Exploration and the Romanian government, were working to process and dispose of mine tailings (leftover ore from which most gold had been extracted). Their plan was to use gold cyanidation to extract any remaining gold, then dispose of the tailings. Aural stored its waste products in a dam near the Someş River.
In January, heavy snowfall caused the damn to break, spilling 3,500,000 cubic feet of its toxic contents into the Someş, which flows into the Tisza River, which flows into the famous Danube River. The environmental damage along the Someş and Tisza were catastrophic. Luckily, the volume of the water in the Danube was able to dilute the levels of cyanide, so it was not impacted as badly. But, it was little consolation to the Romanians and Hungarians who watched their two most beautiful rivers die almost overnight. The legacy of the spill is a strong reminder on the importance of environmentally safe gold mining techniques.