Friday, June 22, 2012

Dark Side of the Gleam

Don't try this at home

There's a tragedy that darkens the gleaming gold.  Young African men work in narrow holes in the ground to dig out gold ore, and then use mercury to process the gold because that's all they know.  They make a little money but they contaminate themselves, their families, and surrounding ecosystems, including the oceans.

Last December in the journal Science of the Total Environment, researchers concluded that “insane” mercury mining practices likely made Segovia, Colombia the world’s most polluted urban area when it comes to mercury, according to Bloomberg

Slow death, slow poisoning.  A tragedy because we know better? A tragedy because people feel like they have no choice?  

In Africa and Colombia, this is small scale mining, sometimes called artisanal, and it is a major source of mercury.

"Nearly 95 percent of the mercury used by miners ends up in the atmosphere or in the soil that the miners discard during the process. This constitutes an estimated total of 1,000 tons of mercury a year by artisan miners worldwide. The extent of the problem is enormous: Artisan gold miners are responsible for 30 percent of the mercury pollution caused by man, the Blacksmith Institute, an organization working on the problem, said in a UPI report.

Coal fired power plants and cement plants also throw lots of mercury into the air when they burn coal

After it’s been vaporized, the mercury eventually falls to the ground.  Rains wash the mercury into the watershed, where bacteria transform it into methyl mercury, one of the most toxic elements on Earth.

Methyl mercury often ends up in the large, predatory fish we all like to eat.  It also poisons marine mammals and other animals.  It's one very good reason to find an alternative to coal burning power plants and coal burning industrial plants as soon as we can.  It might also be time to ask where that tainted gold is going, and if it's really worth the trail of poisoned lives.


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