Blacksmith Institute: Artisanal Gold Mining - Mercury Pollution
Artisanal mining is the term for small-scale mining operations often conducted by hand and that consist of basic extraction and processing methods for obtaining minerals and metals, including gold. It is estimated that about 10 to 20 million people worldwide work in artisanal gold mining. Artisanal miners often use toxic materials to separate metals from the surrounding ore and silt. In artisanal gold mining, the most common separation process is known as mercury amalgamation. Due to a lack of awareness, as well as lack of environmental, health, and safety regulations in these small mining industries, miners are often exposed to dangerous levels of toxic materials. The mercury used in these mining activities can also be responsible for the contamination of water and soil, posing health risks for communities near and far, but also to the global population. About 1/3 of the global annual release of mercury into the environment is due to artisanal gold mining.