Unable to afford an investment in modern processing technologies, most Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Miners (ASGMs) rely on mercury based processing methods to extract the gold in their ore. Learn more about the risks and drawbacks associated with mercury processing.
The Miners Plight
Recognition for Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM) and its poverty alleviating effects on rural populations has lead governments around the world to begin formalizing the sector in recent years, Tanzania among them. Introducing needed regulation for land permitting and formalized employment, this move has engendered a higher degree of social and industrial organization in ASGM economies. The operating practices of ASGM mining operations, however, remain largely unchanged. The environmental and social issues that characterize the sector have prevented large-scale mining companies from aiding the development of the sector. Unable to access investment, expertise, or technology, the majority of small-scale mining operations continue to use the same antiquated methods they have relied on for centuries.
A small-scale miner, otherwise referred to as an artisanal miner or “ASM,” is traditionally defined as a “subsistence miner who is not officially employed by a mining company, but works independently, mining various minerals or panning for gold using their own resources.”
Mercury processing is among the most damaging ASGM practices. Unable to afford an investment modern processing technologies, most small-scale gold miners rely on mercury processing as a cheap and easy means of extracting the gold in their ore. Mercury processing is extremely hazardous and inefficient.
- HAZARDOUS: A heavy metal and a neurotoxin, Mercury is harmful to human health and the environment. The health effects of mercury toxicity are dire and extend to communities around the world. Mercury released by ASGMs contaminates groundwater and bioaccumulates in food staples such as fish, amplifying health risks beyond the mine site. Mercury toxicity affects all major organs and can result in both physical and mental disabilities. It is especially detrimental to the development of children and unborn babies.
- INNEFICIENT: Mercury processing captures only approximately 30% of available gold, relatively little compared to the ~90% capture of modern technologies.