Mercury from Gold mines

Did you know that gold mining is the number one source of mercury release into the environment?  

Did you know that increased regulation of gold mines in the USA in the 1990s captured so much mercury that it glutted the hg market?

Did you know that most recovered mercury is sold to primitive mine panning operations in the Amazon and Congo river basins?  (USA pays billions to divert lamps from lined regulated landfills, then sells it for burning in the rain forest... don't get me started).

14 of the 15 largest Superfund sites are hard rock non-ferrous mines.

45% of all toxics released by all USA industry comes from raw material metal mining and smelting!!

This simple graph shows mercury releases by gold and silver, they make hazwaste and coal look irrelevant in the lifecycle of production (you have to put gold on its own page or the others are indistinguishable). And more importantly, this is NEW mercury, which was entombed in rock, vs. disposal of previously mined/existing/surplus hg.

Most gold purchases are driven by people, not by industry. If you really want to do something for the environment, buy recycled content gold, or 9 carat gold, or avoid gold altogether. The more something costs, the deeper into the earth they will dig, and the deeper they dig, the more mercury comes pouring out. It's simple.

We can do more to reduce mercury pollution by improving womens rights. In countries where women's rights to own land are curtailed (India, China, etc.), gold purchases per capita are higher, because the women require dowry. If women are educated and empowered, they will spend less resources on hard rock mined metals. (This is my theory... if they buy more cell phones, it's possible that tantalum mining will increase... we need students to research this and go out and win a nobel prize for linking green policy with human rights).

We have had a major opportunity to reform the General Mining Act of 1872, which passed the House last  year, and it is being squandered.  If the price of harvesting the metals from circuit boards is corrected and mines are put onto a level playing field, no one will need "e-waste" legislation, companies will be paying for e-scrap.

And here is a message about it from Earthworks, the nation's premier mining subsidy watchdog group.
Urge the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce mercury pollution from gold mines

Newmont's Gold Quarry is one of a group of gold mines that make Nevada one of America's toxic mercury hotspots.
Credit: Bonnie Gestring/EARTHWORKS
Dear Robin,
EPA is drafting new mercury regulations.
Many gold mines are significant sources of mercury air pollution, yet there are no federal regulations that require gold mines to control their emissions.
The EPA has finally drafted regulations, which are currently available for public comment.
EPA's mercury regs need strengthening.
These regulations are an important step in reducing mercury pollution. But the draft regulations need to be strengthened.
The proposed regulations will allow an unacceptable amount of mercury to be released by new mines.
ONE Alaska mine could release THOUSANDS of pounds of mercury!
For example, the Donlin Creek mine proposed in Alaska could release as much as 3,000 pounds of mercury air pollution each year under the new regulations. This is 40 times the amount of mercury currently released by all industries in Alaska.
  1. Significantly reduce the mercury emission limits for new mines.
  2. Require quarterly compliance testing to make sure mines are using the control technology.
  3. Improve the long-term storage requirements for mercury.
Bonnie Gestring, EARTHWORKS
  • Go to the action page
  • Read the sample letter at page bottom that appears and edit it if possible. Customized letters have greater impact.
  • Click "Send My Message" to send your letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • For more information, visit the action page.

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