Why is Gold This Valuable? Why is Cyanide Used in the Mines to Extract Gold?

What is Going On at Ida Mountains in Turkey?

The humans’ interest in gold is very intriguing. Although it does not have any unusual features, in the periodic table of 118 different options, gold is one of the few elements that people choose as their currency. So why gold? Why not osmium or bismuth? Or seaborgium?

In fact, human populations experimented with different metals. For example, in East Africa and Uganda, in 1907, aluminum (Al) coins entered the distribution (which was previously tested at short intervals). In Guizhou, China, 10 cents of coins were produced from the antimony (Sb) in 1931. Carbon (C) was also used in varying amounts of the currency produced from many iron and steel, especially during World War I. Chromium (Cr) is used for coating coins produced from other elements. Manganese (Mn) was used in particular with the nickel (Ni) produced by the United States during the war (pure nickel was used by Switzerland in 1881 in 20 Rappen). In 1943, Poland issued coins of magnesium (Mg). Between 1828-1845 in Russia, coins of 3, 6 and 12 coins were printed by Tsar Nicholas I using platinum (Pt). However, these are temporary trials. Coins include copper (Cu), gold (Au), iron (Fe), lead (Pb), silver (Ag), tin (Sn) and zinc (Zn).

This shows us a fundamental truth about the economy: the preciousness of a mine is not due to its existential nature, but to the value that people give it. In other words, between 1828 and 1845, platinum underwent a chemical evolution in the territory of the Russian Empire and did not gain any special or “über” value. Tsar Nicholas 1, decided to produce 3, 6 and 12 coin rubles using platinum, and the society complied with this decision. They agreed that the value of the money produced from that element was valuable, used in their shopping. Otherwise, a piece of paper or a metal disk has little meaning except for the meaning that we place on it. This is what we call “perceived value” in the economy; in other words, even if it does not have any special value, the value or meaning that is given by the people…

Gold Standard

Among these, gold is an indispensable choice. For decades, countries have used an economic standard called the gold standard. This standard equals a country’s economic currency to a fixed amount of gold.

There are different approaches to the gold standard: for example, the value of the currency of the country can be determined by the value of a currency made in circulation. In another approach, there is no gold money in circulation; only the authorities control the value of the currency in circulation by selling the available gold at a fixed price on demand. In another approach, the government sells gold at a fixed price with the currency of another state, regardless of the currency used. This creates a de facto gold standard, although not a complete gold standard; because the value of money is determined not only by gold but by the value of the currency used.

Many countries have now abandoned the gold standard. We will come to the end of this article.

Eliminating the Elements

To understand why other elements are not used instead of gold, we can focus on the negative aspects of other elements. We can listen to Andre Sella, a professor of chemistry at University College London.

Periodic Table
Periodic Table

Toxic Coins!

On the right side of the table are generally noble gases (noble gases) and halogens. They are impractical because they are gas. You know… You don’t want to carry gas in bottles with you. Of course, since many of these gases are colorless, there is no easy way to know what the money you pay for the product is; after all, you don’t know what’s inside the bottle.

Among these two elements, which are visible as liquid, are mercury (Hg) and bromine (Br). Both of these elements are toxic to humans. Therefore, arsenic (As) and the like are also dysfunctional.

Exploding Coins!

The elements on the left side of the periodic table, ie alkali metals and alkaline earth metals, are chemically extremely unstable and reactive. For example, if you took chemistry classes in high school, you can remember how a reaction occurs when water is dropped onto sodium (Na) and potassium (K): these elements first swell and then explode!

Radioactive Coins!

With this approach, we can eliminate radioactive elements; because the money we carry in our pocket should not cancer us. Elements such as thorium (Th), uranium (U), plutonium (Pu), rutherfordium (Rf), seaborgium (Sg), moskovium (Mc), einsteinium (Es) are eliminated.

Extremely Hard Coins To Find!

You may have heard that the rarity of gold is seen as an advantage. This is true! But if it is almost impossible to find an element, then it will be dysfunctional. This is the shortage of earth metals. They are rarely found, and moreover, it is very difficult to distinguish them from other elements. You don’t want to carry a mixture of what is uncertain in your pocket.

Coins Impossible to Melt!

On the other hand, there are hard and durable elements like titanium and zirconium on the left side. But the problem with them is that it is very difficult to melt … In the millennium before Christ, you would have to carry your boiler with you to separate these substances from their ores. And of course, no such special tools were available at that time.

Candidates of Currencies

After all this elimination process, we have only a few elements left. There are many elements we are familiar with: iron, aluminum, copper, lead and silver. If you sequence the elements that make up the continental layers of the Earth’s outer shell, you will see that metals that are both rare and solid at room temperature are ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, tellurium, rhenium, osmium, iridium, platinum and gold. These are shown in the yellow region in the following image. These are known as “noble metals.” Because they react hard by standing apart from other substances. They are also very rare, which is an important criterion for currency.

Arrangement according to the frequency of the elements that make up the continental layers of the Earth's outer shell
Arrangement according to the frequency of the elements that make up the continental layers of the Earth’s outer shell

If iron didn’t rust, it would be a good source of money. Because there’s too much around. But you could have had to carry a lot of coins in huge sizes. All rare elements except silver and gold have opposite problems. They’re very rare, so you’d have to carry it at a very small rate, so you could lose very easily. It is also very difficult to melt. The melting point of platinum is 1768 degrees Celsius!

There are two items left, which are gold and silver. Both are not very common, but it is not too difficult to find. They both have a relatively low melting point and thus coins, ingots, jewelry into the event. Silver darkens as soon as it comes in contact with a small amount of sulfur in the air. That’s why we place such a special value on gold.

Why is Gold So Valuable?

The reason gold is so valuable is that it is not chemically interesting. Thanks to this stagnant state of gold, a gold crocodile with a complex design can be found intact in a museum in central London a thousand years later.

Turkish Gold Coin
Turkish Gold Coin

So gold has no existential value. A currency can only be valuable when we place meaning as a society. As we have seen, it should not be solid, portable and non-toxic. It also needs to be found in a fair way, few. Also in golden, bright yellow. All the metals in the periodic table are silver except for copper. When copper meets the moisture in the air, it turns green. And that’s what makes gold special.

Another issue about gold is said to be conductivity, but it is hard to say that it adds a special value to it since electricity has not yet been discovered when gold is used as a currency. Of course, this feature may also continue to be popular thanks to the discovery.

Of course, in modern times, we determine the value of money according to none of these characteristics, but what the states and central banks value. There is a certain historicity; but it is becoming increasingly symbolic. Today, countries based on the gold standard are negligible; because gold has no special value for humans. The purchasing power that is important for people Bunu We can do this not with gold but with paper money, even with the digital numbers we see on the computer screen.

However, gold did not lose much of its economic value because it is widely used in technological products such as electronic circuits, space technologies and glass making, as well as in fields such as surgical medicine, dentistry and radiology. Moreover, there are still a lot of people who value gold and see it as an investment tool, and I just said that it is enough for a product to gain market value. Nowadays, we can see this in the high financial value of cryptoparks like Bitcoin. As people value and choose to deposit gold and trade gold, the value of this element will continue to be maintained.

Why is Gold No Longer Used as Currency?

In 1973, the US President Richard Nixon broke the tie between the dollar and gold. Since then, all currencies have been valued in dollars. The reason for Nixon’s decision was in fact quite simple: US gold stocks were running out. This is the main cause of the problem with gold. The source of gold is not dependent on the state of the economy but on the stocks of the mines.

In the 16th century, with the discovery of South America and extensive gold resources, the value of gold declined; the price of everything else has increased. Since then, the problem is the opposite. The supply of gold is very limited. For example, during the Great Depression of 1930, many countries using their gold stocks were able to escape the economic crisis. In doing so, they added value to printed money and revived their economies.

The demand for gold can sometimes be crazy. Due to the constant supply, gold prices can register large fluctuations. 1 ounce of gold, traded at $260 in 2001, rose to $1,921 after the September 11 attacks. Now it’s around $1,230. This is not a very stable feature for a valuable substance.

Perhaps, as Churchill said, gold is the worst element in currency. Except for the rest …

How to Extract Gold?

Well, we understand why gold is so precious. So how do we get it out? And why do gold mines like the one in Kirazlı Village cause problems for the environment? To understand this, we need to learn how it is separated from the stones and rocks in the mines where the gold was extracted. The extraction of gold is really complicated and requires a large number of disciplines to work together. Let’s take a quick look and see what we can learn.

In order to extract the gold, the gold deposits must be determined first. For this, the maps prepared by geologists are examined and potential areas are identified. Then, analysis is performed with methods developed in the fields of remote imaging, geophysics and geochemistry. Weather and soil conditions are examined. If these analyzes are promising, samples are collected by drilling holes at several points. Geologists and mining engineers test these samples to determine if gold is present and how much it is available.

Geological map of the gold deposits in French Guiana
Geological map of the gold deposits in French Guiana

Here comes the statistic: From the examples, it is estimated how much gold is in the bed. In this way, it can be understood whether it is worth digging. Civil and mechanical engineers detect elements that may interfere with excavation, such as the presence of hard rocks or other physical obstacles. As a result of this, if the project is allowed to continue, biologists and environmental engineers will step in and examine the environmental impact of the project. These impacts include flora, vegetation and fauna, how the animal cover will be affected by the project, whether the ecological balance can be preserved, how water resources will be damaged and the like. The institution that operates and supervises all these processes is often the state institutions. These institutions make profit-loss and risk analysis and make the final decision about the project and the project is implemented.

However, in order for the project to start, mines must be opened in the region and surface cleaning is performed for this purpose. In the meantime, all the trees on the earth are cut down, the roads are opened, temporary offices are built, trucks and mining vehicles are brought. For example, more than 98% of the mine operation in Çanakkale is located in the forest area – so many trees need to be cut down. It may sometimes take more than 1 year to complete these preliminary procedures. In fact, it is known that the period from the initial detection of the mine to the start of the extraction exceeds 5 years. The project in Kirazlı Village is actually a project that has been planned and taken since 2010 … If all the obstacles in this process can be overcome and the analysis is successful, the excavation starts. However, the first samples from the excavation are for testing purposes rather than profit. In other words, the tests are not finished yet. Metallurgical and material engineers examine the ore samples from the mine and determine how best to separate the gold. Of course, there are certain ideas about this earlier in the project; however, these can be verified by these tests, or the method can be modified if necessary.

While the excavation continues on the one hand, the extracted gold is transported from the excavation site to a facility located elsewhere. The purpose of these plants is to increase the gold concentration; because gold is still mixed with other stones and metals. This concentration increase is the “crippled” part. Depending on the method decided to be used, this can be done in open or closed facilities, which directly determines the impact on the environment.

How is Gold Extracted from the Remainder of the Ore?

There are many methods for extracting gold: exploiting gravity, flotation, priometalurgy, pressurized oxidation, scalding, chlorination, cyanidation, biooxidation, and so on. Which method will be used is determined by factors such as the amount of ore gold, amount, size of the project, cost, etc.

For example, in mines that contain high grade ore, ie gold, the metallurgical engineers may decide that it is possible to decompose gold with chlorine. Chlorine decomposes other foreign elements in the ore. Thus, gold remains with a purity of around 99.5%. Chlorine gas used or produced as by-product is extremely dangerous; therefore caution must be exercised.

However, if the ore is of low grade and chlorine cannot be used, then a gold purification method invented by Carl Wilhelm Scheele in 1783 is applied: the cyanide bath!

Cyanide Bath!

Depending on the grade of the ore, i.e. the quality, it is possible to use cyanide in several different ways; however, all of which is basically done by mixing cyanide and gold thoroughly and separating the gold. In closed plants, cyanide is mixed with gold in a mill-like instrument. In open plants, cyanide is sprayed on the ore mass in the open area. In both methods, cyanide binds to gold ions and makes it soluble in water. Thus, using elements such as zinc or carbon, the gold is easily separated from the solution and it is possible to obtain gold of purities exceeding 96%. However, the cyanide used in this process is, as everyone knows, an extremely toxic substance. Liquid cyanide is stored in waste pools.

The slightest leakage in these warehouses can cause an environmental crisis beyond the tree massacre. Depending on the nature of the mine, other toxic chemicals such as arsenic may also be released and may be released into the environment if safety is not provided.

If the remaining gold is not pure enough as a result of these processes, a final process will be made from your chemistry classes. Thus, gold of 99.99% purity can be achieved. Thus, the process is largely completed.

The scary thing is that it is possible to find conflicting statements about whether or not cyanide is used in Kirazli; however, one side claims that 20,000 tons of cyanide is expected to be used. This would not be surprising; because in 90% of today’s gold mines, the basic separation method is cyanide.

Açıklamayı Düzenle

There is an interesting detail about this: In fact, there are a number of methods that have been developed both to quickly separate the cyanide from the process and to make it safe. For example, it is possible to convert cyanide to a less toxic cyanide through a process called detoxification. In their articles published in Minerals Engineering in 2013, Nural Kuyucak and Ata Akçıl talk about dozens of methods for cleaning cyanide. Or in an article published in Nature in 2013, experts announced that they had discovered a method of gold separation using corn starch, so cyanide is not even needed. However, none of these are used commercially or extensively, both for cost reasons and because there is no significant public pressure in this respect.

Kuyucak and Akçıl say that the most common cyanide removal method is to keep cyanide in pools after mine depletion. As a result, most of the cyanide in the open air itself, over time, products such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen are converted; loses its toxic properties. However, this method does not always produce the desired results and may require additional methods. But can you apply? Is it worth the money? Can the sealing of the pools be guaranteed for years? These are critical questions.

Cyanide is not a substance that can persist in nature for long periods of time; however, as a result of regular leakage of cyanide, cyanide poisoning may occur through underground and surface water sources such as Atikhisar Dam, 14 kilometers from the mine site, by eating nutrients grown in cyanide soils, by inhaling cyanide in the air and even by touching cyanide soil.

All animal species, including humans, exposed to cyanide have heart attacks, shortness of breath, seizures and blood pressure problems. Long-term neurological damage occurs even in survivors. And at least 11 gold mine disasters caused by cyanide in this way have been recorded. In 7 of these, cyanide mixed with nature caused various damages. Looking at a few examples can prepare us for threats:

Gold Mine Disasters

In 1971, Romania’s Certej dam collapsed, causing 300,000 cubic meters of cyanide-contaminated water to flow into the Certeju de Sus river. A gold mine disaster in Papua New Guinea resulted in the scattering of 2 billion tons of mine waste and the impact of 50,000 people. 610,000 cubic meters of cyanide water was found in the Summitville mine in the US, while the mining company declared it sinking. The US government has spent more than $155 million to clean up this cyanide.

During the Marcopper Mine Disaster in the Philippines in 1996, 20 nearby villages had to be evacuated due to toxic waste being released into the environment, and most of the cultivated agricultural areas in the region were destroyed. In the 2000 gold mine accident in Romania, 100,000 cubic meters of cyanide water infiltrated into the Somesh and Tisza rivers and into the Danube, Europe’s second largest river, and from there to the Black Sea. Investigations have shown that only 1241 tons of fish have been killed in Hungary alone.

Kaz Dağları (Ida Mountains) and Unrest in Turkey Due to Gold

If you have been following the news, you might have heard that the Canadian company Alamos Gold is planning to extract gold from Kirazlı Village, which is a small village 40 kilometers from the Ida Mountains of Çanakkale. This might sound like a regular mining opearation; however the environmentalists claim that this mining project is highly detrimental to the conservation of the Ida Mountains and the nature around the mine.

A little note: 6 of the 11 accidents we have just mentioned are operated by Canadian companies just like the Kaz Mountains project. But it is worth saying also viewed çıkarılabilecekk 93 tons of gold from the excavations in the village of Kirazli, in 2018 only 404 tons in China, Australia 315 tons, 222 tons of US, Turkey has brought 25 tons of gold.

Also, for those who are not familiar, Turkish people are highly sensitive to deforestation and trees being cut down. So much so that the Gezi Park protests of 2013 was triggered by the government’s decision to cut down some trees in a little park near Taksim Square of İstanbul.

According to the counts of the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, 13,400 trees will be cut down for this process. According to the Environmental Impact Report of the project, this number can be as high as 45,560. According to TEMA, which is an environmentalist non-profit NGO and Doğanay Tolunay, a professor at the Istanbul University Forestry Department, the company has already cut down about 200,000 trees in the mine zone. The tragicomic aspect of this is the fact that the company name “Alamos” is derived from the Spanish word alamo which is a type of poplar tree…

Main gold deposits worldwide
Main gold deposits worldwide

This gold is extracted from 13 separate mines in Turkey. Therefore, gold mines are extremely common and the frequency of accidents resulting in environmental disasters is quite rare. However, these types of accidents usually happen once and they do the destruction.

Mines in Turkey
Mines in Turkey

In addition, 133 mines, which account for 60% of all gold production in the world, follow the United Nations protocol for monitoring cyanide waste.

A Scientific Look at the Project in Kirazlı Village

Long story short, profit and loss calculation should always be done very well in such risky projects. The issue is not a simple matter, contrary to what the parties sometimes try to show. But how much of the gold to be issued will benefit Turkey? It is stated that more than 96% of 93 tons of gold worth 4 billion dollars will go to Canadian firm …

Moreover, since the mining operations are short-term projects (for example, this excavation project will only last for 6 years), it should be well calculated how much benefit the employment will bring to the country and whether it will be worth the risk factors.

It should be well considered whether the government incentives given for such projects can be reimbursed in multiples. For example, according to the publication in the Official Gazette July 28, 2019 Turkey 865 million pounds for this project, so it has also encouraged the exchange of the day with $ 152 million; but by the end of 6 years that announced the news agency of Turkey will achieve revenue is up $ 170 million. So this is Turkey’s profit from the project is only about 1-4 million dollars per year unless no other costs or incentives.

Açıklamayı Düzenle

By way of comparison, Turkey’s gross annual receipts was $ 766 billion in 2018; only Çanakkale’s annual agricultural output in 2009 alone amounted to $ 1.3 billion. The total employment that the company will create in Çanakkale is 300 people. On the other hand, a textile company in Denizli, which received 74 million TL incentives in the same Official Gazette, will create employment for 307 people. Is it worth it?

Likewise, by creating a strong public opinion, it should be ensured that all security protocols are in place and functioning, even if this enterprise will continue on its way. Before the project starts, for example, it should be ensured that the promises given to the rehabilitation projects that will be done in the region after the depletion of the mine, re-planting and repair of ecological damage are kept properly and timely.

These are the basic facts about the process; I leave you with what conclusions you need to draw from them. We think that the subject comes to the concept of perceived value that we mentioned at the beginning of the article: According to the perception of value of us people, when such a project is concerned, is the gold to be extracted and the value to be created from it more valuable, trees, forests, people, animals, soil … If it is the first one, will all the necessary measures be taken and a safe and honest job at world standards will be done? We think the decision ends in the answers given to these questions.

References & Further Reading

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  3. MTA. Türki̇ye Maden Yatakları Hari̇taları. (10 Ağustos 2019). Access Date: 10 Ağustos 2019. Reference URL: Maden Tetkik Arama | Archive Link
  4. GTE. Gold Cyanidation. (27 Mayıs 2013). Access Date: 10 Ağustos 2019. Reference URL: Ground Truth Trekking | Archive Link
  5. G. Hilson, et al. (2015). Alternatives To Cyanide In The Gold Mining Industry: What Prospects For The Future. Journal of Cleaner Production, p: 12-13. | Archive Link
  6. R. Boyle. Cornstarch Replaces Cyanide In Clean New Gold Extraction Method. (14 Mayıs 2013). Access Date: 10 Ağustos 2019. Reference URL: Popular Science | Archive Link
  7. Z. Liu, et al. (2013). Selective Isolation Of Gold Facilitated By Second-Sphere Coordination With Α-Cyclodextrin. Nature. | Archive Link
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