‘An acid spill from a large copper mine in northern Mexico is keeping 88 schools closed starting Monday due to uncertainty over the safety of drinking water. The 12-day-old spill, which sent 10 million gallons (40,000 cubic meters) of toxic wastewater into portions of the Bacanuchi and Sonora rivers, may keep schools closed for over a week according to the Associated Press.
The Buenavista copper mine, one of the largest copper mines in the world, is located in Cananea, Sonora, about 25 miles south of the U.S. border near Nogales, Arizona. The mine is operated by Grupo Mexico, one of the world’s largest copper producers. Grupo Mexico’s American subsidiary, Asarco, is nearing a deal to gain full ownership of the Silver Bell copper mine across the U.S. border in Marana, Arizona and has been subject to major environmental misconduct charges in the past relating to its mining operations.
Mine officials have been criticized for not reporting the massive acid spill to authorities for around 24 hours, with residents downstream detecting the spill the next day as it turned dozens of miles of river orange. According to Carlos Arias, director of civil defense for the northern state of Sonora, the spill was caused by defects in a new holding pond, where overflow from acids used to leach metal out of the crushed rock is stored. Arias said a pipe either blew out or lost its positioning on August 7th, sending the sulfuric acid downstream.
So far the company has denied rumors that the wastewater included trace amounts of cyanide believed to have been used in the copper mining at Buenavista. However last week a different mine in northern Mexico spilled over a half million gallons of a cyanide solution used in gold mining, contaminating less than a square mile. Both spills have been at least partially attributed to heavy rains in the area that taxed the overflow ponds’ capacities.’
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