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Guinea – Gold Mining and Mercury Emissions

the details…
Key pollutant
Artisanal gold mining
  • Air
  • Water
  • Soil
  • Direct contact
  • Trophic accumulation
Population affected
Children Under 6 Affected
Artisanal gold mining
Date started
April 2006
Date completed
April 2006
Project Partners
  • University of British Columbia
  • Centre d’Appui au Développement (CAD)
  • Ministry of the Environment

The Problem

The goal is  to reduce occupational health and environmental hazards of artisanal (small-scale) gold mining communities in northern Guinea. The total population of the area covered by the project is estimated at 150,000 of which over 40,000 people are involved every year in gold mining activities. The unregulated burning of mercury amalgam is the primary method for gold extraction. It is widely reported that this method yields 1 kg of gold for every 1.3 kg of mercury employed.

Health Impact

The nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury. Methylmercury and metallic mercury vapors are more harmful than other forms, because more mercury in these forms reaches the brain. Exposure to high levels of metallic, inorganic, or organic mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus. Effects on brain functioning may result in irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems.

Short-term exposure to high levels of metallic mercury vapors may cause effects including lung damage, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increases in blood pressure or heart rate, skin rashes, and eye irritation. (ATSDR – ToxFAQs™)

Current Activity

In coordination with UNIDO, Professor Marcello Veiga of the University of British Columbia, who is Chief Technical Advisor for the Global Mercury Project, was sent by Blacksmith to Mozambique to train miners to use retorts that significantly reduce mercury emissions. Retorts are simple tools that capture evaporated mercury, preventing it from entering the atmosphere and harming the community, while allowing the mercury to be reused. This project, which assessed mercury use and mining practices in the region, trained miners and their families in mercury-reduction techniques, monitored usage and developed follow-up/replication plans, was a resounding success, and will be replicated in Northern Guinea in collaboration with Centre d’Appui au Développement (CAD), and the Ministry of the Environment.