This year's UN World Water Day focuses attention on the close relationship between water and jobs. This is particularly true for the Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining (ASGM) sector where, for more than 15 million workers, water plays an integral part in processing operations, but also has important linkages to environmental and human health.
While the use of water in milling operations helps suppress dust and acts as a key component to ensuring the health of workers, the wastewater produced from processing operations has to be given special consideration. Two main categories of wastewater can be identified: small amounts of wastewater from hard-rock mining, and vast amounts of wastewater from alluvial mining. Both of these require distinct measures for treatment. When mercury is used in amalgamation and in contact with natural waters, health and environmental risks increase. Mercury-contaminated wastewater released into the environment affects ecosystems and wildlife. This can be exacerbated by the simultaneous use of cyanide - identified as a ‘worst practice’ under the Minamata Convention. In aquatic environments mercury bio-accumulates in the food chain, contaminating fish and wildlife which may ultimately be consumed by humans. Raising awareness of this issue is crucial.
In support of the UN Minamata Convention to reduce mercury emissions worldwide, the Artisanal Gold Council (AGC) is working to help educate miners about the risks of mercury use while providing training and technical solutions on mercury-free processing systems which are economically viable and maintain miner incomes. In addition, the AGC continues to work closely with miners to implement responsible and best practices in ASGM which focus on conserving water and water quality. Visit the AGC website and view our publications and videos for more information. Happy International Water Day!
Mercury amalgamation (top) versus mercury-free gold concentration table installed by AGC (bottom).
Article by Tyler Palov