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Mercury and Artisanal Mining in China

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 October 2005

A. J. Gunson
Affiliation:
Department of Mining Engineering, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Marcello M. Veiga
Affiliation:
United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Global Mercury Project, Vienna, Austria
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Abstract

Throughout the world, the growth of artisanal or small-scale mining has resulted in serious mercury pollution issues. While these problems are well studied in much of the world, little has been written about the state of affairs in the People's Republic of China. It is vital to understand how the situation has evolved in China to determine if China's methods of dealing with these environmental and health problems could be applicable to other parts of the world, or if techniques and solutions developed outside of China could be used by the Chinese. Artisanal mining employs about 6 million people in China, who often work in deadly conditions, and contributes to environmental degradation on a huge scale. Chinese artisanal mercury, coal, and gold miners emit hundreds of tonnes of mercury into the environment annually. Artisanal gold miners often use muller mills, which amalgamate whole ores and thus increase mercury contamination in the tailings; more than 14 parts mercury can be lost per part of gold recovered. Many operations do not use retorts, leading to mercury vapor contamination. In 1997, artisanal and small-scale mining emitted approximately 381 tonnes of mercury, of which 226 tonnes were due to gold mining. The implementation of simple measures, such as providing communities with accessible education regarding environmental issues, encouraging the use of retorts, and discouraging the amalgamation of whole ores, would help to mitigate these problems.

Type
Mining and Mercury
Copyright
© 2004 National Association of Environmental Professionals

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