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UN Environment Minamata Convention on Mercury
UN Environment Minamata Convention on Mercury

Understanding the Use, Release, and Effects of Mercury in Artisanal Gold Mining

Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is considered one of the world’s largest emitters of mercury in the environment, accounting for approximately one-third of all global emissions. Miners use mercury to amalgamate gold. During the amalgamation process, mercury can be released directly into adjacent aquatic ecosystems because of poor care and handling of the liquid mercury. Mercury vapor is also released into the atmosphere when the mercury-gold amalgam is burned. The release of mercury creates a high risk of human exposure and also impacts adjacent terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

 

Research Projects

BRI’s Tropical Program is working with multiple partners and governmental agencies to better understand issues related to ASGM. Through funding from the Department of State, BRI is identifying techniques to improve mining efficiency while also reducing the reliance on mercury to extract gold.
 
During the small-scale gold mining process, some mercury is left in the silt (called mine tailings). This excess mercury often makes its way into surrounding waterways when tailings are disposed.
During the small-scale gold mining process, some mercury is left in the silt (called mine tailings). This excess mercury often makes its way into surrounding waterways when tailings are disposed.
 

Collaborators

Collaborators include researchers from the University of British Columbia and will soon include training activities and workshops in Suriname and Bolivia, in addition to the current work in Columbia and Peru. Further work with significant ramifications on the ratification process with the Minamata Convention includes facilitating an update of the National Action Guidelines to be used by the United Nations Environment Programme. Both of these activities are important platforms for upcoming work by BRI in partnership with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
 
Photo Credits: Header photo: Sekotong ball-mills by Kemal Jufri; Mine tailings © BRI-Dave Buck.
Biodiversity Research Institute