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Digging work suspended at Barrick's Pascua Lama mine

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Barrick Gold Corp, the world's biggest gold producer, said on Saturday it had halted earth-moving works at its Pascua Lama mine on the Chile-Argentina border following concerns about the health of workers at the site high in the Andes.

Inspectors from the Chilean Mining Ministry's Sernageomin geology unit ordered the suspension of excavation works at the site on the grounds that excessive dust might pose a health risk, La Tercera newspaper reported.

The newspaper said all construction work at the site had been suspended, but Barrick said later that the order from officials applied only to earth-moving operations and that other construction activities continued.

"We voluntarily decided to stop earth-moving work, including pre-stripping activities, on Saturday, October 27," the company said in a statement, adding that measures had been put in place in an effort to resolve the dust problem.

"These decisions were made prior to the notification we received from the authorities on October 31," it added, without saying how long the disruption could last.

No one at Sernageomin could immediately be reached to comment.

The delay to work at the site is the latest in a series of setbacks at the vast mine.

Earlier this month, Barrick again raised its cost estimate for building the mine to between $8 billion and $8.5 billion from an earlier budget of $7.5 billion to $8 billion. It also pushed back the date when production at the project will begin.

The company blamed the increase on delays and higher labor and project-management costs.

(Reporting by Felipe Iturrieta; Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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