Since the mid-1980s, cyanide in heap leach solutions and mill tailings ponds at gold mines in Nevada has killed a large but incompletely documented number of wildlife ( gt 9,500 individuals, primarily migratory birds). This field investigation documents the availability of cyanide at a variety of 'typical' Nevada gold mines during 1990 and 1991, describes wildlife reactions to cyanide solutions, and discusses procedures for eliminating wildlife loss from cyanide poisoning. Substantial progress has been made to reduce wildlife loss. About half of the mill tailings ponds (some up to 150 ha) in Nevada have been chemically treated to reduce cyanide concentrations (the number needing treatment is uncertain) and many of the smaller heap leach solution ponds and channels are now covered with netting to exclude birds and most mammals. The discovery of a cyanide gradient in mill tailings ponds (concentration usually 2-3 times higher at the inflow point than at reclaim point) provides new insight into wildlife responses (mortality) observed in different portions of the ponds. Finding dead birds on the tops of ore heaps and associated with solution puddling is a new problem, but management procedures for eliminating this source of mortality are available. A safe threshold concentration of cyanide to eliminate wildlife loss could not be determined from the field data and initial laboratory studies. New analytical methods may be required to assess further the wildlife hazard of cyanide in mining solutions.
Additional publication details
Cyanide and migratory birds at gold mines in Nevada, USA