Stable isotope methods have been used to identify the mechanisms responsible for cyanide consumption at three heap-leach operations that process Carlin-type gold ores in Nevada, U.S.A. The reagent cyanide had ??15N values ranging from -5 to -2??? and ??13C values from -60 to -35???. The wide ??13C range reflects the use by different suppliers of isotopically distinct natural-gas feedstocks and indicates that isotopes may be useful in environmental studies where there is a need to trace cyanide sources. In heap-leach circuits displaying from 5 to 98% consumption of cyanide, barren-solution and pregnant-solution cyanide were isotopically indistinguishable. The similarity is inconsistent with cyanide loss predominantly by HCN offgassing (a process that in laboratory experiments caused substantial isotopic changes), but it is consistent with cyanide retention within the heaps as solids, a process that caused minimal isotopic changes in laboratory simulations, or with cyanide oxidation, which also appears to cause minimal changes. In many pregnant solutions cyanide was carried entirely as metal complexes, which is consistent with ferrocyanides having precipitated or cyanocomplexes having been adsorbed within the heaps. It is inferred that gaseous cyanide emissions from operations of this type are less important than has generally been thought and that the dissolution or desorption kinetics of solid species is an important control on cyanide elution when the spent heaps undergo rinsing. Nitrate, nitrite and ammonium had ??15N values of 1-16???. The data reflect isotopic fractionation during ammonia offgassing or denitrification of nitrate - particularly in reclaim ponds - but do not indicate the extent to which nitrate is derived from cyanide or from explosive residues. ?? The Institution of Mining and Metallurgy 2000.