Thursday, September 13, 2007

Costa Rica environmentalists warn of potential disaster at Bellavista gold mine

(Photo: Kent Gilbert/AP)SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) - Environmental groups warned on Tuesday that potential cyanide seepage and landslides at a Canadian-owned gold mine in northern Costa Rica could cause serious environmental damage.

The open-pit Bellavista mine, a subsidiary of Canada's Glencairn Gold Corporation, suspended operations in July and said experts would monitor earth movements. The company then said some areas of the mine were sliding half an inch daily.

Environmental groups say nothing has been done since July to stop the mountain from giving way or to prevent ruptures in a liner known as geomembrane used to block cyanide from seeping into the ground.

"The earth movements are threatening with breaking the geomembrane and if it breaks, the pollutants would end up in the aquifers," said Gabriel Rivas of the Costa Rican Federation for the Environment's Preservation.

Rivas said the cyanide, which is used to separate gold from the ore, could also reach the Puntarenas's estuary on Costa Rica's Pacific coast, about nine miles from the mine.

Gaston Araya, the mine's manager, said the company has been submitting monthly reports on the experts' findings. He declined to describe the findings.

Jose Castro, director of Geology and Mines for Costa Rica's Environment Department, said his office has been monitoring the mine, located in Miramar, about 62 miles north of San Jose.

He said there are "little problems in some parts of the mine, but not in the whole mine."

Glencairn estimates there are about 365,500 ounces of mineable gold in Bellavista, according to the company's Web site.

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