PASTO, Colombia — Officials fear a rush of gold-hungry prospectors to a volcano in southern Colombia that a U.S. scientist claims is spewing a pound of gold each day.
About 45 pounds of gold from the Galeras Volcano become embedded in surrounding rock each year, according to the study by Fraser Goff of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
But a Colombian expert claims that the volcano releases much less gold and in fragments so small that they are of no commercial value.
"I fear that when this gets out, all of Pasto will go running up the mountain," said Libaniel Casas, referring to the city of 350,000 at the base of the volcano.
Casas is director of the government mining and geology center in Narino state, where the volcano is located.
Colombian National Radio broadcast the U.S. study on Friday.
Some Pasto residents laughed at the news.
"Talk about an economic opening!" said Antonio Narino, a civil aviation official at the airport in Pasto.
He and other airport workers, standing on the tarmac and staring in wonder toward the cloud-covered volcano, said they were unaware of the volcano's golden bounty until a reporter told them about it.
Access to the volcano has been restricted since it erupted on Jan. 13, 1993, killing nine people, including six scientists taking samples from its crater.
Casas disputed Goff's figures, saying the volcano only released a pound of gold on days it erupted. "The volcano erupted five times in 1993," Casas said.
Hector Bolanos, a spokesman for the governor's office in Narino state, said: "It's great news that the volcano is releasing gold, but it could also cause an invasion of people."