ENVIRONMENTALISTS and amining company this week fought a verbaltug-of-war as an ecological associationclaimed Metales Procesados M.R.W, S.A.,the company that owns the Bellavista openpitgold mine, is responsible for an allegedcyanide spill at the mine, located inMiramar, in the hills above the Pacific portcity of Puntarenas. The company denies aspill occurred.According to Sonia Torres, presidentof the Miramar-based Gulf of NicoyaEcologist Communities Association(CEUS del Golfo), cyanide – a toxic chemicalsubstance used to extract gold fromore – seeped through a fissure in thepipelines at the mine June 16.THE spill allegedly injured severalmine employees, sending one of them to theemergency room of Monseñor SanabriaHospital in Puntarenas June 17 with a severerash and lightheadedness, Torres said.According to Torres, the injuredemployees were told to rinse off thecyanide with soap and water, but thisproved ineffective and one of them endedup at the hospital. The Tico Times tried toconfirm this, but the hospital did notrespond to phone and fax inquiries tophone and fax inquiries by press time.Cyanide, found in car exhaust and cigarettesmoke and used in Nazi gas chambersduring World War II, contains carbonand nitrogen and may be combined withhydrogen, sodium, potassium or other elements,according to University of CostaRica (UCR) geology professor SiegfriedKussmaul.Mine company president Franz Ulloadenies a spill occurred and any of hisemployees were injured.“THESE rash accusations transcendthe limits of respect. Treachery and lyingsimply cannot be used anymore. These peoplehave never even been inside the mine.How can they pretend to know what happensinside?” Ulloa told The Tico Timesadding that a monitoring commission fromthe Technical Secretariat of the EnvironmentMinistry (SETENA), which makes monthlyinspections at the mine, was present on theday of the alleged accident.The Tico Times contacted SETENA toconfirm this but did not receive a reply bypress time.Torres, who admitted she has never setfoot in Bellavista because she is not allowedinside, said she was informed of the accident– which she claims employees patched upby throwing calcium oxide, a white,absorbent powder used in pollution control,on the spilled cyanide and repairing thepipelines – by sources she cannot reveal.“Mine employees confirmed therumor (of the cyanide spill). They areintimidated by the company and told not tospeak,” she said.Ulloa said the mine will proceed totake legal action against CEUS and mightsue Torres.According to Torres, however, “We(CEUS) feel completely confident aboutthe information we divulged.”CONCERNED Miramar residentsand students from the University of CostaRica (UCR) protested the mine project lastNovember, expressing fears of cyanidespills and environmental damage (TT, Nov.26, 2004).The project is exempt from a moratoriumon open-pit mining declared byPresident Abel Pacheco in 2002 because theBellavista concession was approved beforethe moratorium was signed.The Bellavista mine could beginextration operations in August aftermonths of running testing procedures,according to spokeswoman Kattia Chacón.