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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Mercury and artisanal and small-scale gold miners in China Gunson, Aaron James

Abstract

This thesis determines that over four hundred thousand artisanal and small-scale gold miners all over China systematically use amalgamation and release approximately 240 tonnes of mercury per annum. Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is one of the largest sources of mercury pollution in China. This thesis outlines an approach to investigating ASGM in China based on a series of three studies. The main findings of the thesis were that ASGM and amalgamation are widespread in China, and that mercury releases from ASGM have serious health and environmental impacts on the miners themselves and on their surrounding communities and environment. The use of whole ore amalgamation was demonstrated to be the primary source of these releases, and Muller mill amalgamation was pinpointed as being responsible for over 70% of the ASGM mercury releases. In addition, the practice of following amalgamation with cyanidation was indicated to increase the solubility of mercury and perhaps further increase its risks. The test work completed on an ore sample from the community of "Gold Mountain" demonstrated that alternative technology could largely replace whole ore amalgamation (although not cyanidation) with gravity methods and thus greatly mitigate the health and environmental impacts of ASGM.

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