Mercury Free Mining (MFM), a recently-established nonprofit organization, is hoping to offer a $1 million prize to anyone (individual, team or organization) that discovers an affordable and reliable alternative to mercury in artisanal a small-scale gold mining. MFM founder chief executive officer Toby Pomeroy is organizing this challenge in response to the severe global health and ecological impacts resulting from the use of mercury by artisanal gold miners (ASGM).
Elemental mercury is used in artisanal and small-scale gold mining in many countries. The mercury is mixed with gold-containing materials, bonding with the gold into an amalgam which is then heated, vaporizing the mercury to obtain the gold. The ASGM sector - which accouts for approximately 20% of the annual gold production across the globe - is the single largest source of man-made mercury emissions. Some 15 million miners (and children) inadvertently release 8,000 pounds of mercury into the atmosphere every day, about 1,000t per year, which can be very dangerous and lead to significant mercury exposure and health risks for their families, communities and globally. Mercury vapor negatively impacts the nervous, digestive and immune systems, as well as the lungs and kidneys, and it can be fatal, according to the World Health Organization. These health effects can be felt from inhaling, ingesting, or even just physical contact with mercury, and it s particulary dangerous for pregnant women, their fetuses and young children.
Pomeroy is working with widely recognized leaders from the jewelry, diamond, gem and mining industries. The MFM Board of Directors is chaired by Bill Boyajian, former President and CEO of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Boyajian says, "We are facing a huge problem and we have an opportunity to unite as an industry and make a tremendous global difference. I'm thrilled to be engaged in this project and we welcome leaders from all facets of the trade to join us." Pomeroy hopes the leaders he has brought together will "ignite the global will to conduct this challenge prize, discovering the solution to a persistent problem that will contribute to the health and longevity of all life on earth.” We encourage you to check out Rob Bates' interview with Pomeroy for more detail.
The U.N. is working on it
Earlier this year, the Global Opportunities for Long-term Development in Artisanal and Small Scale Mining Programme (GEF GOLD) was launched to address the mercury issue in the ASGM sector. The $180 million, five-year program aims to reduce the use of mercury in artisanal gold mining and facilitate access to mercury-free extraction methods. The GEF GOLD program is a partnership between UN Environment (UNEP), UN Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the Global Environment Facility, Conservation International and the governments of Burkina Faso, Colombia, Guyana, Indonesia, Kenya, Mongolia, the Philippines and Peru. In addition to replacing toxic mercury with cleaner techniques, it aims to improve access to finance and facilitate formalization of the sector.