Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Romanians protest against Carpathian gold mine.

Thousands of Romanians have attended rallies in Bucharest and other cities against a proposed gold mine in the Carpathian Mountains. The Canadian mining company Gabriel Resources is hoping to excavate over 300 tonnes of gold and 1500 tonnes of silver from the Roșia Montană area, where gold has been mined since at least Roman times. However protestors object to the plans, which will involve the removal of four mountaintops, and the relocation of three villages.

Protestors in Bucharest on Monday 2 September 2013. Radu Sigheti/Reuters.

The mine has been planned for over a decade, but has not gone ahead to date due to concerns over the impact it may have on the local environment, communities and Roman archeological sites in the area. However the Romanian government produced a draft bill at the end of August which would grant the Canadian firm exceptional powers to circumvent environmental, heritage and property laws in the area, something the protestors claim is unconstitutional, and will lead to forced relocations and widespread environmental damage. 

Romania was economically impoverished under the Cold War regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu, but experienced exceptional economic growth during the 1990s and early 2000s, largely due to investment from the European Union. However the country was badly hit by the economic collapse of 2008, and was forced to borrow €20 billion from the International Monitory Fund, European Union, World Bank and other institutions, in return for which it was forced to agree to a set of economic measures including slashing public sector pay, selling of state assets and allowing foreign companies access to mineral resources.

The approximate location of the proposed Roșia Montană mine. Google Maps.

Mountaintop removal is a process in which the entire top of mountain ridges are removed in order to expose mineral seems, which can then be completely removed. The process has been linked to severe environmental problems, including loss of biodiversity and toxification of water resources. It has also been linked to severe health issues; communities close to mountaintop removal projects have been shown to suffer sharp increases in levels of cancer and birth defects, placing a severe strain on local healthcare providers. The process has also caused more direct disruption to communities, with homes, churches and graveyards being removed or relocated against the will of the local populations.

Environmentalists in Romania are also concerned by the proposed use of the cyanide extraction process, in which finely ground gold and silver ore (the two metals are commonly found together) is mixed with (highly toxic) sodium cyanide in setting pools. This leads to the formation of gold and silver cyanide compounds, which are then mixed out with zinc, causing the precious minerals to precipitate out in a sludge, which is then treated with concentrated sulphuric acid in order to obtain the pure metals. The process has been associated with a number of severe environmental problems, mostly relating to the spillage of toxic cyanide compounds.

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