Cyrus Njonde Maina
Mercury use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is a prevailing issue which affects communities working in gold-producing regions. An estimated 1.3 g of mercury is lost to the environment for every gram of gold that is processed. Considering this amount of mercury exposed to the environment, animals and humans, there is a clear need for organisations working in ASGM areas to make efforts to better manage, reduce and ideally eliminate this practice.
The Impact Facility has published a booklet that shows the various options that can be taken in the ASGM sector to manage the use of mercury. Complementing this, we have taken the practical steps of training miners in mercury risk mitigation in combination with facilitating access to equipment that ultimately reduces mercury exposure.
In this 24-page booklet, we explore the application of mercury management tools from simple yet impactful options to modern equipment that reduces the use of mercury and ensures increased yields of gold recovered. Measures to reduce mercury exposure are given first priority, followed by those that reduce mercury emissions, such as introducing more efficient machinery and then by techniques that reduce or entirely negate the amount of mercury required during processing. For instance, the use of personal protective equipment is the first mitigation measure proposed, which can be further improved upon by using equipment that reduces mercury exposure.
We understand that the path to reduced mercury use is a journey and not a one-off event. Miners are often reluctant to permanently adopt the alternatives which exist. The Impact Facility proposes various options, giving miners the choice to select the option that best fits the specific part of the gold mining process they work in, for example those washing in sluicing ponds generally show a strong preference to using hand gloves to protect themselves from bruising and abrasion, which can become an entry point for mercury into their bodies.
The Impact Facility focuses on progressive improvement, using our experience in artisanal and small-scale mining to highlight the lessons learnt over time, based on what was and was not successful in the past. In this regard, we invite you to provide feedback on our mercury management booklet so that you can contribute your experience in ASM to help improve existing options for combating an issue that silently, slowly and often invisibly harms lives and the environment.