Fears of cyanide contamination in the Euphrates River have been raised after a catastrophic landslide in Erzincan in eastern Turkey buried nine workers underground.

For privacy reasons YouTube needs your permission to be loaded. For more details, please see our Privacy Policy & GDPR Compliance.
I Accept
A catastrophic landslide trapped nine workers underground at a gold mine containing Turkey’s largest cyanide pool in the eastern province of Erzincan (Erzîngan) on Tuesday, sparking widespread fears of an environmental disaster that threatens the Euphrates River and surrounding ecosystems with possible cyanide contamination.A search and rescue operation involving over 800 people is now underway at the Çöpler mine, an open pit gold mine in the İliç district of Erzincan, which uses cyanide to extract the gold. Cyanide is widely used in the large-scale extraction of gold from gold ore, though a number of countries have banned its use.

The Çöpler mine, which has been operated by Anagold Mining since 2010, is located dangerously close to the Euphrates River and above the Bağıştaş Dam, and covers an area of 10 square kilometres.

The incident, which occurred at around 2:30 pm local time, occurred when a mass of mineral deposits destined for chemical processing gave way, potentially exposing an open area of 10 hectares to toxic leachate.

The Governor of Erzincan, Hamza Aydoğdu, reassured the public that so far no cyanide has been found to have leaked into the Euphrates. However, the potential for disaster remains high, as contaminating the river with cyanide-laced minerals could be catastrophic for local wildlife and contaminate water sources for hundreds of kilometres.

Miners were reported to have raised concerns about visible cracking at the site prior to the landslide, but allegedly their warnings were ignored. The use of explosives in the vicinity at midday is believed to have triggered the subsequent landslide.

Canada-based SSR Mining owns 80 percent of Anagold Mining, and the Çalık Group, a conglomerate closely linked to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), owns the remaining 20 percent. Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak was CEO of the conglomerate from 2007 to 2013.

According to ecologists, the constant expansion of the mine has led to environmental problems and caused tonnes of soil to flow like a river during the landslide, trapping the workers underneath.

The mine, which has significant gold reserves, has faced environmental scrutiny, and there have been previous incidents, including a significant cyanide spill in 2022.

Concerns about the company’s environmental and safety protocols were heightened by the fallout from the 2022 spill, leading to legal proceedings against government officials and company executives. However, despite further investigations revealing inconsistencies in the reported amount of cyanide discharged into the adjacent Euphrates River, the Turkish authorities chose to waive a 7.2 million USD tax debt owed by Anagold.

Such incidents are not unprecedented in Turkey, a country prone to natural disasters and plagued by a series of mining accidents in recent decades, and environmental activists have consistently raised concerns about the ecological dangers posed by the leaching of minerals exposed to the elements and saturated with cyanide, a highly toxic substance.