LA CASCADA LTD
A brief history of La Cascada
The mining organization La Cascada (Sociedad Minera La Cascada Ltda.) traces its origins back to over 50 years ago. At that time the miners had only one Californian stamp mill and a few small crushing barrels. Most of the gold processing and recovery was carried out by means of mercury and free gold obtained from the large auriferous deposits, known as structural veins since they are strips of mineral embedded between layers of rock. Since, their methods did not recover more than 40% of the gold, it attracted over 50 gold panners, who worked independently to manually sift through and extract leftover paydirt.
As the mining project grew, so did the idea of developing more effective and responsible mining practices. It has now been more than eight years since they completely eliminated the use of mercury and converted instead to much more environmentally friendly metal recovery processes. This switch has allowed them to achieve nearly 98% efficiency in total gold recovery, according to the mine’s ongoing lab analysis, in addition to increased production levels. Many of the previously informal gold panners have been integrated into the productive chain of the mine, working directly with the mining organization and receiving the legally mandated social security benefits.
La Cascada Ltd. takes its name from the series of cascades that encompass the mining project site. The area surrounding the waterfalls is diverse and rich in flora and fauna, making for a magnificent ecosystem. These natural landscapes are so special that Corpocaldas, the environmental authority of the department of Manizales, chose to release more than 150 deer here. It is also the habitat of brown bears, found higher up the mountain slopes.
Such a natural environment would not seem to be appropriate for mining, due to the damage that some kinds of mining, especially illegal, has historically caused in the country. The miners of La Cascada, however, disagree with this premise. On the contrary, they stated that: “We see this situation as an opportunity to demonstrate that responsible mining can coexist with the environment without destroying it, when there is good resource management. We are totally dedicated to conserving and taking care of the landscape, since our environmental efforts make up an integral part of preserving not only our mining work, but also our families and therefore our lives.”
The mining company La Cascada Ltd. is located in one of the rural areas of the municipality of Manizales. The location of the mine is at an altitude of approximately 2,650 meters above sea level. The temperate humid climate has an annual average temperature of 15° C and a relative humidity that ranges from 70% to 90%.
The structural geology of this mountainous region provides for considerable water flow throughout the entire mining site. Water is a daily and essential element in the mining operation, and the Cascada company has taken advantage of this resource. Water produced by infiltration in the mine is used daily to power the gold processing plant, eliminating the need to divert water from a stream.
Achievements and results of Fairmined Certification
The mining project had already made significant progress in both technological and organizational aspects by the time it began the process to obtain Fairmined Certification. However, since the beginning of the certification process, it has made great changes at the business level and in fundamental criteria such as occupational health and safety, while many other elements were redesigned and/or reconsidered. Some of the changes that have taken place are listed below:
- Mining Health and Safety: An occupational health specialist was hired to create and implement a workplace health and safety policy.
- Training Schedule: The organization created a schedule to train the miners, recognizing the importance of providing training.
- Safety Prevention and Monitoring: Strategies were created to measure objectives for mining safety, and machinery maintenance schedules were posted to prevent accidents.
- Participation: Joint committees were created to encourage employees to openly discuss such issues as work environment, wellbeing, and mine safety.
- Hiring System: Employees were provided a written contract upon hire.
- Market Access: Thanks to Fairmined Certification, the mining organization, La Cascada, has been able to enter international markets with fair prices.
An example of responsible mining
The mining organization La Cascada continuously seeks to improve its day-to-day extractive processes and to remain current in its knowledge of industry practices. In order to achieve better and more adequate quality standards that meet national and international requirements, the organization is carrying out a number of important investments. Some of the areas that have received the most attention and investment are the following:
- Total elimination of mercury and its replacement by more ecological and profitable alternatives.
- Control system for closed-loop mineral processing and zero discharge of pollutants into water sources.
- Recirculation system for mineral processing wastewater.
- Ongoing training for all personnel in ecological conservation and landscape preservation methods.
- Safe metallurgical handling system to reduce exposure to chemical agents that are toxic to workers’ health.
- System to backfill abandoned sites with sterile and neutralized sand that was a byproduct of mining, thus achieving a near complete reduction in the discharge of solids to water sources.
Type of Mining Operation
This type of operation is considered a low-sulfidation hydrothermal mining system, whose origin is derived from the volcanic activity in the surrounding area. In turn, this was the direct source of the mineral deposit, and it developed the type of concentration that we find today.
Currently, the main recovery system is gravimetric, since applying gravity is sufficient to easily recover the large particles of free gold that make up the majority of the ore. All remaining tailings and remains of primary processing are taken to a second mill that grinds them to a finer size to recover even further free gold.
“Before we knew about the Fairmined Standard, our company had already made a commitment to optimize our mining operation model and to implement environmentally friendly practices. However, through our certification process with Fairmined, our eyes were opened to a new responsible model of gold mining. At the same time, we established a metal recovery model that achieved efficiencies that had been nearly impossible for us before we began working with Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM). Thanks to the certification, not only have we received recognition at the local level, but also nationally and internationally, reaching markets that we would have never imagined possible if we had traveled this path alone. Many thanks to ARM for their unconditional support and for opening doors for us to new markets that offer fair prices and value our hard work in the mines. For those of us who work in the small mining sector, this is a wish and an opportunity, that has become a reality.” Hector Ortiz Soto, member of the mining organization La Cascada.