Senior executives of the Omai gold mine in Guyana run by Montreal-based Cambior Inc. have promised reparations for a recent cyanide spill that had "a major environmental impact."
In an open letter to the people and government of Guyana, carried in the local media Wednesday, Cambior President Louis Gignac and David Fennell, president of Golden Star Resources, which has a 30 percent interest in Omai Gold Mines Ltd., apologized for the Aug. 19 incident.Also on Wednesday, the Guyana government announced the Essequibo River was again safe for use.
"We are satisfied there is no longer any danger to humans or aquatic life," Health Minister Gail Teixeira told Reuters.
Current cyanide levels in the Guyana's largest river are within the World Health Organization guidelines for drinking-water safety, she said.
The Omai gold mine was the largest operating gold mine in South America before it was closed following a serious dam seepage just before midnight on Aug. 19. A breach in the holding pond caused 113 million cubic feet of cyanide-laced effluent to leak into the river.
The incident has sparked an uproar in Guyana. Government officials said the spill is the worst environmental disaster in the history of the former British colony, which is on the north coast of South America between Venezuela and Suriname.
Guyana's Parliament has appointed a commission of inquiry to look into the mine's safety practices and said it would hold the company responsible for all cleanup costs.
The Parliament also placed full responsibility "for the massive leaks" on Omai Gold Mines Ltd. Additionally, the Parliament requested an environmental audit "by a reputable and expert agency or group of agencies" at the expense of the Omai Gold Mines.
A local group, called the National Committee for Defense Against Omai, issued a series of blistering comments and demands. The committee said the cyanide content rose from a "disaster level of 6.28 to 15 parts per million."
The mine remains closed, and engineers have been brought in to assess the damage and recommend corrective measures, mine officials said.
More than 260 million U.S. gallons of cyanide-laced sludge from the mine's waste pond spilled into the Essequibo River. The spill killed thousands of fish and temporarily shut off the livelihood of thousands of riverbank residents.
It also severely hit the country's fledgling tourism industry, with cancellations extending into November.
The letter from the senior mine executives said "we have experienced a very serious industrial accident which resulted in a major environmental impact. We apologize for this to the president, government and people of Guyana with whom we share the partnership in development of this country."
"Omai fully accepts responsibility and for any legitimate reparation that is a consequence of it," the letter stated. The Omai executives did not specify how much they would pay in reparations.