Without the use of cyanide in the gold mining industry, the world’s production of gold would not nearly be as high as it is
right as the very moment. Gold is very important to many different cultures; its uses go far beyond its use in jewelry. Gold is needed for various forms of electronic equipment. Cyanide’s use has enabled the gold mines to have a higher output of gold, so therefore this very useful element’s demand has grown. Cyanide’s usage is also very controversial, due to its harmful effects on the environment and its toxic nature. But is it as harmful as many of us may think? The use of cyanide in the gold mining industry is growing everyday, there’s nothing we can do to stop its usage; the only thing that we can possible do is to be more careful with the ways that it is used.
Gold mining is one of the most important industries in our country; providing the basis to which our country’s financial stability was founded upon. The first documented gold discovery was made in 1799, when John Reed’s son, Conrad, found a 17 pound nugget in Meadow Creek. The Reed’s farm was located in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. Gold mining is the techniques employed in the removal of gold from the earth. The techniques used in the finding of gold can be divided into two main types: manual and mechanical. Manual processes include panning, long toms, etc. The mechanical techniques consist of drilling, hydraulics, and many chemical processes; one being the use of the Cyanide Leach process.
Gold has been used since prehistoric times by humans; thought to be the first metal used by humans. This precious metal was valued for its ornamental value and “magical” properties. During the Middle Ages alchemists tried to transmute other metals into this valuable substance. “Gold fever” struck Europe and many quests were made in the search of gold. This element has been used as coins, jewelry, and in many electrical devices.
Gold is very ductile and malleable; it is easily beaten into thin sheets of gold leaf. Gold is relatively chemically inactive, making it unaffected by moisture, oxygen, and many acids. Gold can be found in many locations around the world. The majority of the time gold is found in its metallic state, in the forms of dust, flakes, and nuggets. This metal is found in alluvial placers and in quartz veins. The main producers of gold are South Africa, the United States, Russia, Australia, and Canada. All of these countries employ the usage of the Cyanide process.
Cyanide is a poison that is very lethal to mostly anything living. It is also a very fast acting poison. If someone is given a sufficient dose, it could kill them in only a few minutes. Cyanide can be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. Cyanide causes hypoxia in cell, meaning that the cells cannot use oxygen delivered to them. The respiratory system is not able to nourish the cells with oxygen. If the condition is not treated right away, the person will breathe rapidly, go into convulsions, go unconscious, and then suffocate. The most well-known antidote is amyl nitrate which can either be injected or swallowed.
Cyanidation was first discovered by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, who discovered Cyanide. The modern Cyanide Process was developed in 1887 by John Seward MacArthur and the brothers Dr. Robert and Dr. William Forrest in Glasgow, Scotland. After this discovery, it was widely used in the mining of gold because of the great recovery rate; the gold recovery percentage soon jumped from 40%-50% to 85%-95%, doubling the world’s production of gold. Before, gold had only been mined through manual processes, but the fine grain gold and gold dust particles had been wasted, being thrown out in what is known as the mine tailings. With this discovery, it made it possible for low-grade ores to be mined without it being a financial risk.
Cyanidation, also known as the MacArthur-Forrest Process, involves dissolving the precious metal in a Cyanide solution, either Sodium Cyanide or Calcium Cyanide. The chemical reaction used is called the Elsner Reaction; the Stoichiometry of the reaction is: 4Au + 8NaCN + O2 + 2H2O → 4NaAu(CN)2 + 4NaOH.