Cyanidation is a method of extracting metals from ores by treatment with a cyanide solution. Under Idaho's Rules for Ore Processing by Cyanidation, ore processing facilities that use cyanide in their mineral extraction processes are required to obtain a permit from DEQ for construction, operation, and closure. DEQ also performs inspections to ensure these facilities meet regulations outlined in their permits. DEQ receives notices for plans to operate mining operations from local, state, and federal land management agencies, such as the Idaho Department of Lands and the Bureau of Land Management that administer local, state, and federal land use laws. DEQ also may receive notification of plans to operate from prospective operators. If DEQ determines that ore processing using cyanide will occur, DEQ notifies the proponent and lead land management agency that a permit is required.
Although cyanide occurs naturally in the body and in the environment, much is released by industrial processing that takes place during mineral extraction or in steel and iron works. If not regulated, cyanide can be toxic to people and wildlife, and seep into our ground water. Exposure by breathing large amounts in the air, drinking cyanide in water, or touching soil contaminated with it can damage your respiratory system and may even result in death. At higher lethal concentrations, cyanide poisoning also affects other organs and systems in the body, including the heart.
Status of Cyanide Permits in Idaho
Currently, four facilities have cyanide permits in Idaho. Three are in some state of closure while the fourth, the New Jersey Mine near Kellogg, remains in operation.
A fifth proposed operation near Elk City (Idaho County) is in the project scoping phase by the Bureau of Land Management.