A Canadian-owned gold mine in Zacatecas is being investigated by federal authorities to determine whether it broke any rules with the manner in which it has handled a leak of contaminated water dating back to October 2013, according to a report by Reuters.
One year later, Goldcorp Inc. reported an increase in selenium levels in groundwater at its Peñasquito mine in Mazapil. Reuters reported this week that a review of company data revealed the contamination intensified after the leak was reported to authorities.
Two weeks ago, the firm told regulators that contaminated water had been found in other areas. However, both the company and regulators say there is no evidence that public health has been endangered or that environmental damage has been caused.
Goldcorp said it had not informed nearby residents of the leak because its tests showed groundwater had not been affected outside its property, nor had it contaminated local drinking water.
The environmental agency Profepa said the company was not legally required to inform residents about the leaks, although agency official Arturo Rodríguez Abitia said it would have been preferable to do so.
Goldcorp told Reuters it had “managed the issue within the confines of our property” and that it continued to monitor and operate its tailings management system to prevent any external impact.
“This issue is one that we have taken seriously and we are taking the necessary measures to resolve,” said Michael Harvey, the mine’s Latin America director for corporate affairs and security.
Selenium levels in the well rose for months after October 2014 but began falling the following April. Between September last year and May the concentration remained steady at 0.01 milligrams per liter, which is the maximum level stipulated by Mexican regulations.
Profepa is now looking into the issue to determine whether Goldcorp had downplayed or not fully disclosed relevant information.
Meanwhile, the mining company is also under fire from some regional organizations in Zacatecas that allege the mine is polluting underground aquifers with heavy metals.
The Plan of Ayala National Coordinator (CNPA), an umbrella group of advocacy organizations, has demanded an investigation of the company and authorities whom it claims are guilty of collusion and corruption for not having enforced environmental laws.
CNPA leader Felipe Pinedo told a press conference that collusion between the mining company and federal government agencies such as the Environment Secretariat (Semarnat) and Profepa is “historical.”
The Mazapil mine, accused the CNPA leader, has polluted the region for years with selenium, arsenic, lead, mercury and fluoride, “surpassing by far the accepted maximum levels and killing people.”
Pinedo claimed that hair, nail, and tooth loss have been detected, along with thyroid and immune system damage and effects to the digestive system and lungs, all caused by the “chronic ingestion of minerals” caused by open-pit mining.
Pinedo also demanded that the mining company present a report on the environmental impact of its operations and an assessment of the risks its activities posed for the population.
The Peñasquito mine is the largest gold mine in Latin America and produced 860,300 ounces of gold last year.