Cyanide… a discussion on ways to ban its use, and thus halt large scale metallic mining

Apr 7, 2023 | Gold Mining

The effort at the state level to ban cyanide use in mining was at first very well received. But partisan actions killed it in committee, halting any further possibilities in the 2023 General Assembly to protect us from potential metallic mining. We recently discovered that Virginia law would support this at the local level.

Revisiting the ban on the processes that use cyanide in metallic mining may be the most agreeable way to halt large scale mining at the local level. It was suggested by Supervisor Danny Allan, and again by gold miner Paul Busch, as the way to get around the problems that arise with a ban on metallic mining.

Because we live in a strongly followed Dillon Rule state, localities activities are limited by state pre-emption. But! We found Virginia Code that allows localities to prohibit mining. And, we just found out that VA Code 15.2-2280, not only allows localities to adopt bans on mining but also allows for restrictions. So: “…it may regulate, restrict, permit, prohibit, and determine the excavation or mining of soil or other natural resources”. So the County can have a say in how extractive activities are done.

We have long awaited: Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) has just published their 10 page Toolkit for communities to better understand the land use tools available to regulate, restrict, or prohibit mining activities. To visit their gold mining page click Here. Click on Resources for the Toolkit.

We have options to:

  1. ban metallic mining, or
  2. ban the metallic mining process using cyanide,
  3. and/or adopt the rights-based Prove It First ordinance.

Here is information on cyanide bans. First, see the simple language of the failed Virginia House Bill 1722. Then the simple language of the successful Montana cyanide ban law – not much difference. And some commentary below.

Also check out this blog posted 4/1/2023:

And this one posted March 30, 2023 reviewing the Planning Commission work session on metallic mining – Industry presents: Rob Lanham of  VA Transportation Construction Alliance (VTCA), Guy Dixon – Kyanite Mine owner, Prof Erik Westman of VA Tech, Spencer Young of Boxley Slate Mines.

Virginia HOUSE BILL NO. 1722

Offered January 11, 2023
Prefiled January 9, 2023

A BILL to amend and reenact § 45.2-1105 of the Code of Virginia, relating to mineral mining and processing; use of certain chemicals prohibited.

Patrons– Simonds, Guzman, Subramanyam, Edmunds, Hudson, Kory and Rasoul
Referred to Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

1. That § 45.2-1105 of the Code of Virginia is amended and reenacted as follows:

§ 45.2-1105. Prohibited acts by miners or other persons; miners to comply with law.

A. No miner or other person shall (i) knowingly damage any shaft, lamp, instrument, air course, or brattice or obstruct any airway; (ii) carry in a mine any intoxicating liquors or controlled drugs without the prescription of a licensed physician; (iii) disturb any part of the machinery or appliances in a mine; (iv) open a door used for directing ventilation and fail to close it again; (v) enter any part of a mine against caution or a warning sign or barricade; (vi) use cyanide, a cyanide compound, or sulfuric acid in any mineral mining or processing operation; or (vi) (vii) disobey any order issued pursuant to the provisions of the Act.

B. Each miner at any mine shall comply fully with the provisions of the Act and other mining laws of the Commonwealth, including regulations adopted by the Department, that pertain to his duties.


Montana Code Annotated 2021

Part 3. Metal Mine Reclamation
Cyanide Heap And Vat Leach Open-Pit Gold And Silver Mining Prohibited
82-4-390. Cyanide heap and vat leach open-pit gold and silver mining prohibited. (1) Open-pit mining for gold or silver using heap leaching or vat leaching with cyanide ore-processing reagents is prohibited except as described in subsection (2).

(2) A mine described in this section operating on November 3, 1998, may continue operating under its existing operating permit or any amended permit that is necessary for the continued operation of the mine.
History: En. Sec. 1, I.M. No. 137, approved Nov. 3, 1998; amd. Sec. 1, Ch. 457, L. 1999.



Industry claims cyanide is relatively safe because—even if it spills—it breaks down rapidly in surface water.

But the compounds that cyanide breaks down into can be harmful.

Cyanide spills into groundwater can persist for long periods of time and contaminate drinking water aquifers.  Cyanide contaminated groundwater can also pollute hydrologically connected neighboring streams.

Cyanide’s efficiency makes mining more wasteful
Because cyanide leaching is very efficient, it allows profitable mining of much lower ore grades.

Mining lower grade ore requires the extraction and processing of much more ore to get the same amount of gold. Partially due to cyanide, modern mines are:

  • much larger than before cyanide was used;
  • create vast open pits; and
  • produce huge quantities of waste.
  • More than 20 tons of mine waste are generated to produce enough gold for a typical ring.



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