I first blogged about the toxic connection between gold and mercury back in December in my post All That Glitters, when the price of gold reached a record high. Back then, we asked you to join our December Holiday Challenge and you came through – so far we have raised enough money to buy nearly 3,000 additional mercury-recapture retorts. Thank you. Now I have some video to show you so you can see how those retorts are making a difference.
We have been working with a local NGO in Indonesia to introduce these simple, low-cost retorts that gold miners can use to recapture mercury that is burned off in the gold mining process. We took our cameras out to the mines in Kalimantan to talk to the miners themselves One man explained that before the retorts, “my head feels like it’s about to burst and it gets hard to breathe.” His only wish is for a bigger retort so he can process larger quantities.
Now that the price of gold is still high — I continue to see those ads on television asking you to mail in your gold for cash — it is a good time to stop and think where your gold comes from. At least a quarter of the world’s total gold supply comes from artisanal gold mining in countries like Indonesia. These are small, very labor intensive operations. Often, men, women and kids work together. To understand what it is like on the ground, this video shows how the miners extract the gold – crushing the ore, mixing it with mercury, then burning the mercury off with a propane torch to recover the gold or adding cyanide to release the mercury. Either way, mercury leaks into the air and environment, and gets absorbed into the ground, contaminating the water. One village of about 2000 people we visited had more than a dozen gold processing sheds. The miners there have built their own retort but they are only 60% efficient, meaning 40% of the toxic mercury escapes into the air, poisoning everyone in the village.
Slowly we are starting to make a difference.