Workers trapped in goldmine after landslide destruction

15 Feb 2024
Workers trapped in goldmine after landslide destruction

Search and rescue operations are currently underway for the nine workers who are trapped in the collapsed heap leach at the Çöpler Gold Mine, which is owned by Anagold Mining in the İliç district of Erzincan. This incident has once again brought attention to the country’s poor safety record, as previous calls to shut down the Copler mine were ignored.

Rescuers are searching through cyanide-contaminated soil to save the workers who were trapped when 10 million cubic meters of sludge rolled over their open pit on 13 February 2024. The mine is operated by the private company Anagold and is the second-largest gold-producing mine for SSR Mining. Eighty per cent of Anagold is owned by SSR Mining, a company based in Denver, United States, and Turkey-based Lidya Madencilik and Calik Holding.  

The Çöpler mine was previously closed in 2020 due to a cyanide leak caused by a burst pipe into the river. It was reopened two years later after the company was fined and a cleanup operation was conducted. Despite local efforts to shut it down, the mine continued its operations.

Environmentalists are concerned that the cyanide and sulphuric acid used in the gold extraction process could potentially contaminate the Euphrates River, which flows from Turkey to neighbouring Syria and Iraq. However, the Ilic Nature and Environment Platform, a local pressure group, has stated that the stream has already mixed with the Euphrates, and instead of sealing off the stream, they are urging authorities to close down the mine.

The Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects said on Wednesday that the government should close the Çöpler mine in the eastern town of Ilic “immediately”. The union stated that their previous warnings about a potential disaster had been disregarded. “All those responsible for the disaster should be held accountable before the judiciary,” it said in a statement. “All environmental impact reports should be cancelled and the plant should be closed immediately.”

Turkey has a significant history of poor mine safety. In 2022, an explosion at the Amasra coal mine on the Black Sea coast claimed the lives of 41 workers. The country’s most devastating mining disaster occurred in 2014 at a coal mine in Soma, western Turkey, where 301 people lost their lives. Following these incidents, engineers warned that safety risks were frequently disregarded and inspections were not adequately carried out.

photo: protesters gather in Denizli against mining massacre (Evrensel)

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