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The dirt on dirty gold

When it comes to gold, visions of ‘luxury’, ‘beauty’ and ‘prosperity’ readily spring to mind. But not all that glitters is attractive and most of the gold on the market today is “dirty” gold.

The term has nothing to do with the cleanliness or purity of the metal itself but reflects the processes used to produce it.

The term dirty gold refers to any gold which is sourced or produced using poor environmental practices, substandard working conditions or illegal dealings. The use of highly poisonous chemicals such as cyanide and mercury, which have been used in gold mining for the past century, is characteristic of dirty gold production. It is estimated that more than 90% of the world’s gold is extracted using these chemicals.

Clean Earth Technologies Group CEO Kevin Fell said, “As governments, miners and communities become more concerned about the negative impacts of traditional gold mining, many are looking for safer alternatives.

 

The challenge to provide a cleaner extraction process, that is also commercially attractive, has driven Clean Mining to develop new technology that eliminates traditional cyanide and mercury processes to produce ‘clean’ gold.”

Environmental cost

Dirty gold mining practices take a huge toll on the environment and are concentrated in some of the most remote and pristine locations around the world.

Large scale mining operations that rely on cyanide leaching to extract gold from ore, build large holding tanks or tailings dams to collect and store waste chemicals.

Vast tracts of land are cleared for the dams and there is a real risk of dams failing or chemicals leaching into the surrounding environment, contaminating soil and water for generations. These disasters are not uncommon with 27 serious tailing dam failures reported between 2007 and 2018, resulting in the displacement of whole communities, numerous lives lost and considerable ecological damage.

Smaller mining operations don’t fare much better. The artisanal and small gold mining industry is the biggest source of mercury pollution in the world, responsible for almost 40% of all mercury emissions.

Mercury can stay in the environment for hundreds—even thousands—of years, negatively affecting wildlife populations, water sources and agricultural land.

Human cost

It only takes a grain-sized dose of cyanide, or 1.5 grams of mercury, to kill a person.

The use of toxic chemicals in dirty gold mining is a critical risk to the health of miners who work with these chemicals every day. Direct exposure through inhalation is extremely harmful to miners and can result in lung and respiratory system issues which can prove fatal. Other forms of mercury exposure have been linked to gastrointestinal issues, kidney damage and various neurological diseases.

Community cost

The health risks facing miners in dirty gold mining also hold true for surrounding communities as chemicals erode through the soil and contaminate water sources. Mercury gases, created in the burn-off process, indiscriminately settle on land or water and contaminate farmland and fisheries, increasing the likelihood of exposure for everyone living in these communities.

The future is clean gold

In contrast to dirty gold mining practices, Clean Mining’s innovative gold processing solution does not require toxic chemicals, ensuring a clean and more environmentally sustainable alternative.

The award-winning, non-toxic solution replaces cyanide with a less hazardous reagent which is non-flammable and water soluble. Used in conjunction with Clean Mining’s leaching and de-watering processes, this solution is commercially scalable and has the potential to eliminate tailing dams altogether.

For artisanal miners who traditionally use mercury, the same proprietary solution can be used to dissolve gold from ore without causing harm to miners or the environment.

Clean Mining is part of the Clean Earth Technologies Group.

 

*Source: CSIRO; United Nation’s Development Programme; United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); and The World Health Organisation: Artisanal and small-scale gold mining and health

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