Archive | Artisanal Small-Scale Gold Mining/Mercury Problems

How one country is grappling with mercury emissions from artisanal gold shops – by Paula Dupraz-Dobias (Chemical & Engineering News – March 16, 2020)

https://cen.acs.org/

The central market was bustling in Puerto Maldonado, in the Madre de Dios region of the Peruvian Amazon. On one end of the market, diners sat on plastic stools shaded from the oppressive noon heat as food was prepared at the many open-air stands. Vegetables, fruit, and piles of locally harvested Brazil nuts were displayed nearby. Toddlers played on the ground in front of their parents’ booths.

Across the street, past a row of motorcycle taxis, more children played along the sidewalk, in front of a strip of open-front businesses advertising the purchase and sale of gold.

Such a scene is a common one in many towns in the region, which produces an estimated 15–20% of Peru’s gold exports. Worldwide, artisanal and small-scale gold mining represents about 10% of the world’s gold supply, and some 100 million people depend on such mining for survival, according to the Fairtrade Foundation, which works to promote fairer trading conditions. Continue Reading →

The scientists restoring a gold-mining disaster in the Peruvian Amazon – by Jeff Tollefson (Nature.com – February 4, 2020)

https://www.nature.com/

Months after the military expelled thousands of illegal miners from La Pampa, researchers gained access to a sandy wasteland.

“Holy shit!” Miles Silman gasped as his motorized rickshaw rattled out of the forest and onto a desolate beach. All traces of the trees, vines and swamps that once covered this patch of the Amazon had vanished. In their place were sun-baked dunes and polluted ponds created by illegal gold-mining. Silman, a conservation biologist at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was there to document the carnage.

La Pampa was once the largest and most dangerous gold-mining zone in the Peruvian Amazon, so riddled with gangsters that scientists dared not enter. For nearly a decade, they could only watch by satellite as gold hunters mowed down some of the most biodiverse rainforest on the planet. That ended in February 2019, when the government declared martial law and expelled an estimated 5,000 miners.

Now, La Pampa is deserted and under military guard. When Silman and his colleagues surveyed the area for the first time in late June, they found a barren, eerily quiet landscape polluted with mercury, a toxic by-product of mining. The data that the researchers collect on this inadvertent experiment could help to determine the extent to which restoration is possible — or document the evolution of an entirely new, and human-made, ecosystem. Continue Reading →

What is artisanal gold and why is it booming? (Reuters U.S. – January 15, 2020)

https://www.reuters.com/

(Reuters) – A rapid rise in the price of gold since 2000 has driven millions of people to deposits in Africa, South America and elsewhere where they dig for gold using basic technology.

Such informal digging – known as artisanal or small-scale mining (ASM) – has been around for centuries, and gold offers cash to communities that may lack alternatives. There are now around 15-20 million artisanal miners, and millions more depend on them, Delve, a global platform for ASM data, estimates.

More and more people are trying to bring this fast-growing trade into the formal economy. But it has generated toxic waste and fed labor abuses, organized crime and prostitution, according to groups including the United Nations and the OECD. Continue Reading →

Venezuela’s Guaido seeks EU ‘blood gold’ designation for informal mining – by Brian Ellsworth and Vivian Sequera (Reuters Canada – January 9, 2020)

https://ca.reuters.com/

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Thursday urged the European Union to officially label as “blood gold” the precious metal informally mined in the country’s southern jungles as he seeks to increase pressure on the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro’s government since 2016 has supported artesanal mining in the Venezuelan Amazon to bring in revenue amid an economic crisis, an effort that expanded as Washington increased sanctions meant to force the ruling Socialist Party from power.

The initiative has been criticized by environmental activists and rights groups for contaminating watersheds with mercury and fueling massacres as gangs battle for territory. Continue Reading →

Deforestation, erosion exacerbate mercury spikes near Peruvian gold mining (Duke University – December 12, 2019)

https://www.sciencedaily.com/

Scientists from Duke University have developed a model that can predict the amount of mercury being released into a local ecosystem by deforestation and small-scale gold mining.

The research, which appears online on December 11 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, could point toward ways to mitigate the worst effects of mercury poisoning in regions such as those that are already experiencing elevated mercury levels caused by gold mining.

“We’ve taken a lot of ground measurements in the Peruvian Amazon of mercury levels in the water, soil and fish,” said Heileen Hsu-Kim, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University. “But many areas in the Amazon aren’t easily accessible, and the government often does not have the resources needed to test local sites.” Continue Reading →

Artisanal gold mining polluting Peruvian biodiversity hotspot -study – by Valentina Ruiz Leotaud (Mining.com – November 17, 2019)

https://www.mining.com/

Researchers at Dartmouth College analyzed satellite data and discovered that artisanal mining is altering the water clarity and dynamics of the Madre de Dios River watershed in the Peruvian Amazon.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers explained that higher levels of suspended sediment were found in rivers near the mining sites. The sediments contain mercury and other contaminants.

According to the Center for Amazonian Scientific Innovation, Canada’s NGO Artisanal Gold Council has registered that some 181 tonnes of mercury are released into the environment every year in the Madre de Dios region. Continue Reading →

The Hidden Cost of Gold: Birth Defects and Brain Damage – by Richard C. Paddock (New York Times – Novmeber 9, 2019)

https://www.nytimes.com/

CIDAHU, Indonesia — Thousands of children with crippling birth defects. Half a million people poisoned. A toxic chemical found in the food supply. Accusations of a government cover-up and police officers on the take. This is the legacy of Indonesia’s mercury trade, a business intertwined with the lucrative and illegal production of gold.

More than a hundred nations have joined a global campaign to reduce the international trade in mercury, an element so toxic there is “no known safe level of exposure,” according to health experts.

But that effort has backfired in Indonesia, where illicit backyard manufacturers have sprung up to supply wildcat miners and replace mercury that was previously imported from abroad. Now, Indonesia produces so much black-market mercury that it has become a major global supplier, surreptitiously shipping thousands of tons to other parts of the world. Continue Reading →

The complexities of military involvement in mining – by Patrick Kingsland (Mining Technology – August 22, 2019)

https://mine.nridigital.com/

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is home to one of the world’s poorest populations, many of whom survive on less than a pound a day. It is also home to 64% of the world’s cobalt supplies – a vital mineral that powers smartphones and electric cars, and offers hope of a more renewable future.

While the majority of Congo’s cobalt is produced by some of the world’s largest mining firms, roughly a third is dug out by hundreds of thousands of informal, artisanal miners who work in dangerous conditions with few safety measures and little recompense.

The big firms use heavy duty trucks and other expensive equipment to dig out the metal. The local Congolese usually use their bare hands, with children making up a significant part of the labour force. Their efforts often end up in global battery supply chains – usually via China – and then into western smartphones and vehicles. Continue Reading →

The wildcat goldminers doomed by their toxic trade – by Tim Cocks and David Lewis (Reuters U.S. – July 24, 2019)

https://www.reuters.com/

High gold prices and cheap equipment are luring millions in Africa to informal mines that feed, and slowly poison, them

BAWDIE, Ghana – A few years after coming as a teenager to this Ghanaian town to prospect for gold, Yaw Ngoha had made enough cash to marry his sweetheart and build a house with a porch, to which he would later add a flat-screen TV and satellite dish.

So when a town elder invited a doctor to talk to miners about the hazards of wildcat mining, “nobody listened,” said the 36-year-old, sitting on a wooden bench on his porch in a lush banana grove. “We needed money.”

Since Ngoha started prospecting in the early 2000s, more and more people like him have helped Ghana grow into Africa’s biggest gold producer. Across the continent and beyond, millions have turned to the trade. Few are deterred by the risks. Continue Reading →

Armed Forces Called to Defend Glencore Mine in Congo – by William Clowes and Tiago Ramos Alfaro (Bloomberg News – July 4, 2019)

https://www.bloomberg.com/

Glencore Plc said armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo are in the area around the operations of its Kamoto Copper Co., after dozens of illegal miners were killed in a landslide last week.

“We prioritize the safety and security of our workforce and host communities,” Glencore said in a statement on Thursday. “KCC will continue to engage with all the relevant stakeholders to collaborate on identifying and implementing a long-term, sustainable solution to illegal mining in the DRC.”

Illegal miners will be removed from the site of the Glencore project where at least 43 died last week, Interior Minister Basile Olongo said on Saturday. Glencore estimates that 2,000 unauthorized people enter its open-pit mine on average every day. Continue Reading →

Peru shut down one of the world’s largest illegal gold mines. But at what cost? – by Jim Wyss (Miami Herald – June 11, 2019)

https://www.miamiherald.com/

PUERTO MALDONADO, PERU: For more than a decade, authorities turned a blind eye to the sprawling illegal gold mine in southeastern Peru that had become a national embarrassment but fueled the local economy.

The area, known as La Pampa, stretches across 40 square miles of what used to be old-growth Amazon forest. Now it’s a desert-like wasteland, gouged with toxic mud pits.

It’s a place where some 30,000 to 40,000 people dug through the muck in 24-hour shifts looking for gold to feed the bullion and jewelry markets of Miami and Europe. It was a place ruled by criminal gangs and warring clans, where workers toiled under slave-like conditions and police rarely entered. Continue Reading →

Child labour in mining, poor working conditions take centre stage in inter-regional meeting – by APO (Business Ghana – May 30, 2019)

https://www.businessghana.com/

Experts and global actors from Africa, Asia and South America gathered in Manila to address child labour and poor working conditions in artisanal and small-scale gold mines (ASGM).

The first-ever Inter-regional Knowledge-Sharing Forum on Child Labour and Working Conditions in ASGM of the International Labour Organization (ILO) served as a platform for dialogue.

Governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations, international non-government organizations, civil society organizations, miners’ groups and their communities, and ASGM supply chain actors joined the forum.

Countries represented include Colombia, Congo, Cote d’ Ivoire, France, Ghana, Guyana, Indonesia, Italy, Mali, Mongolia, Nigeria, Philippines, Thailand, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States. Continue Reading →

Philippines: Dying For Gold (Al Jazeera.com – May 2019)

https://www.aljazeera.com/

We investigate why people are risking their lives in an illegal gold industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

In the Philippines, an illegal gold trade is booming. But not everyone is reaping large profits.

Investors desperate to cash in on a market worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year are enticing poor villagers to risk their lives by diving deep below the surface of muddy mangroves in search of gold.

The nuggets they find may eventually fetch a high price, but miners often receive a pittance and there is little safeguard to protect them. Continue Reading →

More than 40 million people work in artisanal mining: report – by Peter Hobson (Reuters U.S. – April 24, 2019)

https://www.reuters.com/

LONDON (Reuters) – More than 40 million people around the world work in artisanal and small-scale mining where minerals including gold, diamonds and cobalt are dug up often by hand, a report by the World Bank and development organization Pact said on Wednesday.

Increasing demand for metals and rising prices have triggered a boom in small-scale mining in recent years, mainly in poorer countries in South America, Africa and Asia.

These mines are a vital source of income for communities, but many operate outside the law and leak chemicals into rocks, soil and rivers. Working conditions can be appalling, and the metal and stones dug up are often smuggled across borders on a vast scale, sometimes by criminal operations. Continue Reading →

Illegal online sales driving mercury pollution crisis in Indonesia – by Luh De Suriyani and Nurdin Tubaka (Mongabay.com – April 8, 2019)

https://news.mongabay.com/

  • Illegal online mercury sales are booming in Indonesia.
  • Use of the toxic metal was banned in 2014, but it remains popular among small-time miners, for whom it’s become increasingly easy to procure online.
  • It’s a quick and dirty process that constitutes the livelihoods of some 1 million people spread across the country. But prolonged exposure to mercury can have severe health consequences.

DENPASAR/BURU ISLAND, Indonesia — Illegal online mercury sales are booming in Indonesia, and activists have had enough. “Nearly all the mercury players in Indonesia do their business illegally,” says Yuyun Ismawati, a Goldman Prize-winning activist and founder of the environmental NGO BaliFokus.

“That includes manufacturers, traders, exporters, and users, especially in the small-scale gold mining sector.”

Use of the toxic metal was banned in 2014, but it remains popular among small-time miners, for whom it’s become increasingly easy to procure online. Continue Reading →