Cyanide has been used in the mining industry in some iteration since all the way back in the 1880s. Today, the term “cyanide” conjures grisly images of a toxic poison, but in reality, cyanide is a naturally occurring element found everywhere from fruit to nuts to bugs.
Background on Cyanide and Sodium Cyanide
“Cyanide” is a general term for chemicals that contain the cyano group (a triple-bonded carbon and nitrogen.) Although it can be toxic if ingested, cyanide is an extremely useful, commercially-requested chemical in applications such as photography, plastics, and electroplating. Over a million tons of cyanide are produced for commercial applications each year.
Sodium cyanide is most commonly used for mining applications. It’s sold as either a liquid or a solid briquette and its strength, usually quoted on a molar basis, can range anywhere from 98% and above. It’s an ideal solution for gold processing because it is cost-effective, quick to process, and readily available.
How Cyanide Chemicals are Used to Mine Gold
Today’s gold mining operations are a far cry from the creek-panning of old. Commercial gold mining processes in the 21st century can separate gold from rock ore in quantities as small as 0.005%. The gold found in these rocks isn’t even visible to the naked eye. The process of using cyanide chemicals to extract gold from ore using an aqueous substance is known as “leeching.”
First, the ore is crushed into a fine powder using industrial machinery. Then, the dust is added to a carefully-monitored solution of sodium cyanide (NaCN) and allowed to process. During the process, the gold molecules form very strong bonds with the NaCN, becoming water soluble. The application of zinc separates the cyanide molecules from the gold and turns the gold back into a solid, readying it for the smelting process.
Is Mining With Cyanide Chemicals Safe?
Like any commercial chemical, sodium cyanide and other mining chemicals are as safe as their handling process. The amount of sodium cyanide needed for gold processing is minimal, and the material is not combustible on its own. Those handling cyanide bricks or solutions should always wear masks to protect against airborne dust or gasses containing trace amounts.
The most important criteria in determining whether the use of cyanide for mining is safe is the condition of the processing facility itself. Are materials clearly labeled and separated based on hazard class? Are staff properly trained on handling and usage of the chemicals? Are proper protocol in place that instill checks and balances at every level? When conditions are met, cyanide can be a very safe commercial chemical to utilize.
Noah Chemicals supplies sodium cyanide to mining operations around the country. We understand the implications of handling hazardous materials and take great care to provide our clients with the best quality materials available.
Contact one of our on-staff scientists today to find out how NaCN might be a good fit for your operation.