The Cyanide Code

The “International Cyanide Management Code For the Manufacture, Transport, and Use of Cyanide In the Production of Gold” (Cyanide Code) is a voluntary, performance driven, certification program of best practices for the management of cyanide in gold and silver mining.  Participation is open to gold and silver mining companies, manufacturers of cyanide, and transporters of the chemical.  The Cyanide Code was one of the earliest standards and certification programs developed for the minerals sector, and today it is amongst the most established certification programs in the mining industry.  It has been successfully adopted around the world at mining operations in widely diverse conditions and climates, in developing and developed countries.

The objective of the Cyanide Code is to improve the management of cyanide used in gold and silver mining and to enhance protection of human health and the reduction of environmental impacts from inadvertent releases or exposures to the chemical. Based on Principles and Standards of Practice, the Cyanide Code provides a management system for the safe management of cyanide throughout its use cycle, including production, transport, handling use recycling and disposal of the chemical at the mine site.

The Cyanide Code is comprised of two fundamental components for each of the three industries within its scope.  Principles state broad commitments that signatory gold and silver mines, cyanide producers, and cyanide transporters make to manage cyanide in a responsible manner.  Standards of Practice follow within each Principle, identifying the performance goals and objectives that must be met to comply with the Principle.  Guidance on the measures that typically must be implemented to meet these goals are provided in separate Guidance Documents for Mining Operations, Production Operations, and Transport Operations.  These documents, along with other documents related to participation in the Cyanide Code Program, may be found in the Cyanide Code’s Document Library.

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Implementation of the Cyanide Code is verified through triennial audits conducted by independent third-party auditors.  Companies that adopt the Cyanide Code must have their operations that use, transport, or produce cyanide audited to determine the status of Cyanide Code implementation. Those operations that meet the Cyanide Code requirements are certified.

This framework provides a mechanism of assurance for enhancing the protection of human health and reducing the potential for environmental impacts.

Participation and Administration

Gold and silver mining companies and the companies producing, storing, repackaging and transporting cyanide used in gold and silver mining can become signatories to the Cyanide Code.  Signatory companies commit to follow the Cyanide Code’s Principles and implement its Standards of Practices for Mining, Production, and Transport.

The Cyanide Code is administered by The International Cyanide Management Institute, a non-profit corporation established to administer the Cyanide Code, which is overseen by an independent Board of Directors consisting of individuals knowledgeable in the use and management of cyanide in the gold and silver mining industries and other interested stakeholders.

Development of the Cyanide Code

The Cyanide Code was developed by a multi-stakeholder Steering Committee under the guidance of the United Nations Environmental Program and the then-International Council on Metals and the Environment.

In the 1990s, a series of accidents involving cyanide made international news, and sensitized public opinion to the use of this substance in the mining industry. Accidents occurred throughout the cyanide use cycle, including transport, handling and tailings disposal, in both developed and developing countries. These included spills of cyanide-containing solutions at the Zortman-Landusky and Summitville Mines in the United States and the Omai Mine in Guyana, and the release of reagent cyanide being transported to the Kumtor Mine in Kyrgyzstan. The most notorious event was the Aural Gold Mine spill in Baia Mare, Romania in January 2000. That accident released approximately 100,000 m³ of gold mill tailings into a tributary of the Danube River. Fortunately, no human lives were lost; but the spill resulted in a massive fish kill and focused the world’s attention on the risks of cyanide used in the gold mining industry.

That accident in Romania prompted the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the former International Council on Metals and the Environment (then headquartered in Ottawa) to convene an international workshop in Paris to discuss ways to improve the management of cyanide in gold mining. The workshop, involving nearly 40 individuals from a wide variety of professional backgrounds, including a number of Canadians, led to the development of the Cyanide Code.

Creating a code to encompass an entire industry on a global scale was difficult. Despite the host of complex issues requiring resolution, nevertheless, the multi-national, multi-stakeholder Steering Committee established after the Paris Workshop took just 13 months to complete its work on developing the structure and content of the Cyanide Code in early 2002.5 The Cyanide Code was then formally announced at the World Mine Ministries Forum in Toronto in March 2002.

Two more years were needed to finalize the substantive and procedural documents for the Cyanide Code’s implementation and along the way, to create the International Cyanide Management Institute, in 2003, to oversee the Cyanide Code’s implementation. Throughout this process, growing awareness of the Cyanide Code was already leading to a change in attitude that, in turn, resulted in the implementation of more stringent management procedures by the mining industry worldwide. Importantly, the Cyanide Code serves to give a common framework to this process of change.

Scope of the Cyanide Code

The Cyanide Code focuses exclusively on the safe management of cyanide that is produced, transported and used for the recovery of gold and silver, and on mill tailings and leach solutions. It also includes requirements related to financial assurance, accident prevention, emergency response, decommissioning of cyanide facilities, training, public reporting, stakeholder involvement and verification procedures.  Mining operations using cyanide, and cyanide producers and transporters are subject to the applicable portions of the Cyanide Code.

The Cyanide Code is intended to complement an operation’s existing regulatory requirements. Compliance with the rules, regulations and laws of the applicable political jurisdiction is necessary; the Cyanide Code is not intended to contravene such laws.  It does not address all safety or environmental issues that may be present at gold and silver mining operations such as the design and construction of tailings impoundments or long-term closure and rehabilitation of mining operations, nor safety or environmental issues at production and transport operations that do not involve cyanide.

The term “cyanide” used throughout the Cyanide Code generically refers to the cyanide ion, hydrogen cyanide, and the salts and complexes cyanide forms with a variety of metals in solids and solutions.  It must be noted that the risks posed by the various forms of cyanide are dependent on the specific chemical forms and concentrations.

Directory of Signatory Companies

Companies that want to participate in the Cyanide Code become signatories and commit to the Cyanide Code’s Principles and Standards of Practice.  A full list of participating companies and certified operations is located in the Directory of Signatory Companies

See the Signatory Map Signatory Directory