Understanding The Problem
Mercury is a toxic heavy metal and one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern, according to the World Health Organization. Pure Earth estimates that 19 million people are at risk for exposure to mercury globally. Exposure to mercury can cause damage to the nervous, digestive, and immune systems, as well as the lungs, kidneys, skin, and eyes. Mercury is particularly dangerous to young children, babies in utero, and pregnant women. The mercury released into the environment knows no borders and contaminates rivers and oceans, fish and other marine animals, and eventually the global food chain. Pure Earth’s Toxic Sites Identification Program has identified and assessed over 500 sites around the world where exposure to mercury threatens the health of the population.
Photo: Larry C. Price
Severe mercury poisoning can result in limb deformities.
The Impact from Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining
Up to 20% of the world’s gold comes from artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) which is responsible for the release of an estimated 1,000 tons of mercury annually, representing about 30% of the world’s anthropogenic mercury releases, according to United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). As much as 95% of all mercury used in ASGM mining is released into the environment. Once released, mercury travels around the world, dropping into oceans and rivers, contaminating the seafood we all consume.
Photo: Mercury contaminates seafood consumed around the world. Pregnant women, in particular, are often warned to limit their intake.
PURE EARTH’S 4-PHASE SOLUTION
to Mercury Pollution Across the Globe
1. FIND MERCURY HOT SPOTS
Work with governments to identify ASGM sites where mercury use is poisoning children and families and damaging ecosystems.
2. MEASURE AND EDUCATE
Assess the extent of mercury contamination in the environment and the level of mercury exposure threatening a community. Educate miners and families on the dangers of mercury use, safe work practices, and methods to protect themselves and their children.
3. TRAIN AND CLEAN UP
Train miners in safe and profitable mercury-free mining techniques; test a range of remediation approaches to remove mercury.
Replant and restore regions of the Amazon rainforest stripped bare by mining activity. Native tree species are carefully selected for inclusion in landscape restoration. The species offer multiple benefits—ecological, medicinal, economic and more.
The Jewelry Industry Can Be A Leader In Solving The Global Issue Of Mercury Pollution From Artisanal & Small-Scale Gold Mining (ASGM)
Why Should the Jewelry Industry Care?
- Supply chain and reputational risk
> Even best practices cannot ensure that supply chains are completely free of gold from ASGM sources using mercury;
> Without a commitment to mercury-free practices there will always be “dirty” gold that can tarnish the reputation of the industry.
- Investors, employees and consumers care
> Consumers expect companies to have purpose, societal impact and do no harm;
> Investors are looking for companies that incorporate ESG criteria – profits and purpose are linked;
> Employees want to work for companies that care.
- It’s the right thing to do
> Being a truly responsible business means going beyond the norm. It means supporting disadvantaged communities and reducing toxic releases. This is true sustainability;
> We have a moral imperative to make the world a better place.
INDUSTRY NEWS: Responsible Jewelry Council Newsletter
NONPROFIT PURE EARTH WORKS WITH JEWELRY INDUSTRY ON MERCURY-FREE GOLD MINING SOLUTION
CASE STUDY: See how Brilliant Earth is working with Pure Earth
In an update, Brilliant Earth states in their 2022 report that the company increased Fairmined gold purchases by 27%, from approximately 470 grams to 600 grams, through their work with Pure Earth and the Alliance for Responsible Mining.