Why is Mercury Used in Gold Mining?
Mercury is a silvery metal that is liquid at room temperature. It is used in gold mining to extract gold from rocks. A puddle of mercury is poured onto a pile of crushed rock. The mercury and the rock are then mixed. Any gold will leave the rock and stick to the mercury to form blobs. The mercury is then blowtorched and it evaporates (turns from a liquid into a gas), leaving the gold behind.
Why is the use of Mercury in Gold Mining dangerous?
Mercury is dangerous. Consuming or breathing in mercury vapour can cause kidney damage and brain failure. It is particularly dangerous to pregnant women as it can damage the baby.
Mercury is especially dangerous to miners, who are in direct contact with it. Mercury vapour from blowtorching can also travel to local lakes. Fish will then consume the mercury. If the fish are eaten, local people will end up having higher than normal levels of mercury. While we are all exposed to small amounts of mercury, having too much exposure can lead to health problems.
Ingesting mercury is bad for both humans and animals. Once mercury has been moved out of mines, it is difficult to remove from the environment. Mercury pollution increased by 20% between 2010 and 2015. The use of mercury in gold mines creates almost half of all mercury pollution. This makes gold mining a main factor causing damage to human health and the environment. Because of this, some organisations are trying to stop the use of mercury in gold mines.
What is ZELA?
ZELA stands for the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association. They aim to promote environmental justice, and sustainable use of natural resources. They also work to support the creation of laws that help stop the overuse of natural resources. As natural resources are finite, if they are used too much, they will run out. ZELA works with both communities and parts of the government. While ZELA has several aims at the moment, one of their main focuses is working to make mining safer.
How are ZELA helping to regulate Gold Mining?
In Zimbabwe, many gold miners are unlicensed. This means that they are working illegally. They may have little knowledge of environmental and safety laws around mining and the use of mercury.
ZELA wants to help stop the use of mercury in gold mining. To do this, they want to increase transparency in the industry. This means that they want to make it easier to access information about the activities of mining companies. This helps to prevent companies from getting away with ignoring safety laws. They also want to promote changes to laws to help move away from using mercury. Many companies operating gold mines do not follow the environmental or worker safety laws. ZELA wants to make sure that companies follow the laws that are already in place. If ZELA succeeds, they will reduce damage to both the local environment and people’s health.