British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium

Urban artisanal gold shops and mercury emissions Cordy, Paul; Veiga, Marcello M. (Marcello Mariz); Gonzalez Carrasco, Victor Hugo


In developing nations across the globe, artisanal miners use mercury amalgamation to extract gold. The resulting amalgam is refined to varying degrees before being sold to urban gold shops. However, this doré may still contain 2-40% mercury; and sometimes unburned amalgam is sold directly to the gold shops. There is a potentially serious health risk for shop employees and surrounding populations when the gold is melted and further purified. Field studies in Suriname, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile reveal that mercury concentrations in the ambient air of gold shops frequently exceed the WHO limit of occupational exposure by an order of magnitude or more. This paper provides an overview of the diverse practices and technologies used in gold shops in Latin America and Indonesia, with a focus on the resulting atmospheric mercury emissions. Furthermore, we compare and contrast the various different methods of reducing mercury emissions in urban air that have been developed by governments, NGOs, and local people. For example, the US EPA has devised a filtration system that captures at least 80% of mercury emissions, and the Kalimantaan water filtration method is estimated to capture between 75% and 90% of emitted mercury, depending on the configuration. Finally, we review existing and potential barriers to implementation of these means of remediation.

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