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Cyanide management

Cyanide is a widely used and valuable industrial chemical. Sodium cyanide plays a key role in extracting gold and other metals such as silver, copper and zinc.

Cyanide is a naturally occurring molecule of carbon and nitrogen. Low emissions of cyanide are present in nature – for example, in many insects and plants (including a wide range of vegetables, fruits and nuts) where it provides protection against predators. Cyanide is also present in the  man-made environment - for example, in road salt, as a stabiliser in table salt and in motor vehicle exhausts (the largest source of mobile emissions of cyanide to the air).

Cyanide is highly toxic to humans, aquatic organisms, bird and animal life. High short-term exposures can cause harm to the central nervous system, the respiratory system and the cardiovascular system and quickly lead to death. Further information on the scientific properties of cyanide compounds is available here.

As with other substances used in the minerals industry, cyanide is strictly regulated by government, predominantly at the State level through legislation covering mining, environmental protection, mine safety, explosives and dangerous goods management, and poisons handling.

The Australian gold industry continues to implement and refine management systems and operational controls to improve its performance in relation to cyanide management, beyond the expectations established by regulation. The industry supports the ongoing development of measures that are based on sound science and are proven to be effective in minimising the hazards and risks associated with the use of sodium cyanide

To promote leading practice in the handling and use of cyanide, the Australian Government, in conjunction with the minerals industry, published ‘Cyanide Management’ as part of a series of documents on Leading Practice Sustainable Development in Mining. The handbook outlines leading practice approaches to the management of cyanide in the Australian minerals industry. http://www.ret.gov.au/resources/documents/lpsdp/lpsdp-cyanidehandbook.pdf

The regulatory framework for the safe and effective management of cyanide was reviewed in 2010 by government, the minerals industry and other stakeholders, including neighbouring communities, through the National Industrial Chemical Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS). http://www.nicnas.gov.au/publications/CAR/PEC/PEC31/PEC_31_Full_Report_PDF.pdf

International Cyanide Management Code

In response to the Baia Mare tailings spill in Romania in 2000, a decision was taken by leading gold companies to develop an International Cyanide Management Code for the Manufacture, Transport and Use of Cyanide in the Production of Gold. This industry-led, voluntary initiative was developed by a multi-stakeholder committee under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the then International Council on Metals and the Environment (ICME).

The International Cyanide Management Code is intended to reduce the potential exposure of workers and communities to harmful concentrations of cyanide, to limit releases of cyanide to the environment, and to enhance response actions in the event of accidental exposure or release. Signatories are required to demonstrate compliance through independent third-party professional audits of systems and practice.

Further information on the International Cyanide Management Code is available at http://www.cyanidecode.org/

The list of signatories to the International Cyanide Management Code is available at http://www.cyanidecode.org/signatory-companies/directory-of-signatory-companies