February 2010

A cleaner code

Amendments polish cyanide management protocol for gold mining industry

By R. Bergen

The management of highly toxic cyanide poses a significant challenge to the gold mining and processing industry. One response to the challenge is the International Cyanide Management Code (ICMC). The newly modified code, with a more streamlined administrative process, broader scope and expanded commitment from the gold mining industry, is gaining momentum in the sector. Drafted to meet the need for an industry-wide standard for best practices in the management of cyanide, mill tailings and leach solutions, the code is now applied to 90 gold mining operations around the world and has the commitment of nearly 60 companies.

Voluntary adherence to the ICMC requires companies to subject each operation they wish certified to an initial independent third-party audit and re-auditing every three years. Recent changes to the code require producers and transporters who supply mines that follow the code to be signatories as well. The company and its suppliers must demonstrate compliance with standards of practice relating to workforce training and protection, handling and storage, decommissioning, emergency response planning and public disclosure.

A summary report addressing these issues at a particular operation or at each link on the cyanide supply chain is posted on the website of the International Cyanide Management Institute (ICMI); the detailed audit findings remain property of the signatory company.

In addition to extending its reach along the supply chain, the latest changes to the code smooth some of the snags in the auditing process. Notarization requirements have been streamlined and guidance on reconciling conflicting scientific recommendations has been added.

The evolving ICMC has been the gold mining industry’s response to the call to manage cyanide better, particularly at operations where local regulation is weak or where mines have less experienced operators. Funded by signatories, it was developed with the cooperation of government and non-governmental organizations and financial institutions. The first companies committed to the code in 2005. Currently, certified operations, including several operated by Canadian companies, can be found in developing and developed countries alike, with a matching network of qualified auditors.

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