Gold and mercury: A lethal mix

Gold And Mercury: A Lethal Mix

We’ve known for at least 200 years that mercury is a poisonous metal that causes horrific health problems, and even death. Yet, this critical information isn’t being made available to many of the people who are exposed to the highest levels of mercury.

Artisanal gold miners, often poor and operating illegally, use mercury to separate small amounts of gold from crushed rock. The mercury-gold mix is then heated over open fires to vapourise the mercury, leaving behind pure gold.

This dangerous method of small-scale gold recovery is happening right now in many countries, including Papua New Guinea. And often the fires used to evaporate mercury are also used for cooking and are located inside homes. Short of eating it, it’s hard to imagine a more effective way of ingesting mercury. Despite full knowledge of the hazards of this activity, and the dozens of cases of mercury poisoning seen at the local hospital, the PNG government has failed to educate artisanal gold miners about the risks they are taking.

As the above video shows, it isn’t just the miners that are at risk of mercury poisoning. It’s their families, too. Children, in particular, are at risk, with their developing brains even more susceptible to the effects of mercury.

The ultimate solution to mercury poisoning of artisanal gold miners and their families is no doubt a complex one. Ultimately, it will need to address the poverty and desperation that drives people to do such dangerous things.

In the meantime, education about the dangers of mercury, and perhaps even some simple technology, could help these miners reduce their exposure to mercury and minimise the harm that it does.

Here, in Australia, cases of mercury poisoning are extremely rare or non-existent. However, we can’t be complacent. Australia has a number of mercury pollution problems, including lighting waste, dental and medical waste, and mining wastes. Too much of this waste still gets dumped in landfill or poured down the drain, so it is extremely important to ensure that all mercury-containing waste is safely disposed of through properly equipped companies, such as Ecocycle.

Need to dispose of mercury-containing waste safely?

Ecocycle is a mercury recycling specialist. Contact us today to see how we can help your business recycle mercury-containing waste safely and responsibly. Call us on 1300 32 62 92 or complete the form below.

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