Ending the toxic trail of small-scale gold mining (UN Environment Programme – February 15, 2023)




Strapped together by tape and frayed ropes, wooden logs demarcate the mineshaft’s entrance, a hole in the ground no larger than a metre square. A young man nearby cranks a lever, kickstarting some generators. The steady hum of the machinery blends with the creaking of a pulley system, drowning out the sounds of the gentle breeze blowing through the mining site, located in Paracale, north Philippines.

A young man tied to a harness begins his descent down the pit and deep beneath the planet’s surface, his headlamp the only visible source of light. Upon reaching the bottom of the cramped mineshaft, he pulls out a small chisel and hammer and begins chipping away at the rock.

When he returns to the surface, he deposits a sack of ores into a barrel. Another miner mixes the ores with water before adding drops of mercury, which binds to any gold particles to create amalgams. These are then heated to evaporate the mercury, leaving behind gold.

While it is fast, this process comes at a cost for these miners, their families and their future generations. Mercury is a toxic chemical that can cause irreversible brain damage and disrupt ecosystem health. There is no known safe exposure level for elemental mercury in humans, and effects can occur at even very low levels.

For the rest of this article: https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/ending-toxic-trail-small-scale-gold-mining