UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Myths and realities in artisanal gold mining mercury contamination Santos, Gustavo Angeloci


The world faces a major gold rush currently. Worldwide 15 million people work directly in artisanal gold mining in more than 55 countries. The usual method of extraction is amalgamation and cyanidation, or very commonly a combination of both. Significant amounts of contaminants are released to rivers and soil, generating environmental and health concerns. The majority of artisanal miners are involved in micro-mining, but it is believed that the majority of contamination comes from small to large artisanal operations. Larger operations involve less people, but process much more material, re-leasing much more contaminants as well. The present work explains how contamination is generated, through a com-prehensive analysis of the labor division in small-scale mining sites around the world, and also analyses aspects of different intervention approaches. Different approaches are taken by different groups working on the problem around the world. This work evaluates the most common kinds of interven-tion, with special attention to technical and legal aspects in trying to eliminate mercury use in gold extraction. The study is conducted by comparing differ-ent interventions strategies to evaluate the myths and realities from an engineering perspective. Special attention is paid to the evaluation of alterna-tives to amalgamation process for gold such as intensive cyanidation, borax direct smelting and chlorination. Accordingly to the location in which the technology is introduced, different methods can be applied, but only cyanide remains a proven method to deal with complex ores. Important aspects such as education, training, financial aid and understand-ing of a community before intervention are also shown to be essential for success. The association of Small-scale Gold Mining and potential gold concentrate consumers is pointed to as a possible solution, applicable where concentrates can be shipped to a smelter. Association with large companies is cited as an alternative means to reduce contaminants generated by gold extraction as well.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International