A large influx of illegal gold miners has cropped up in Zimbabwe, motivated by the country’s “worst economic crisis in a decade.” The immediate effects of this illegal mining are severe and threaten the health of the environment and nearby communities.
Lungelo Ndhlovu writes for Reuters, “fervent gold rushes that can lead to violence and drive people from their land” are being carried out by illegal miners, who often resort to burning cropland and using mercury in their attempts to make a quick buck. The country is mineral rich (after tobacco, gold brings in the most amount of foreign currency to Zimbabwe), and, as such, will need to rely on its various mining sectors to “revive an economy crippled by triple-digit inflation and high unemployment.” Unfortunately, it is clear that illegal gold mining is not the answer.
Environmental pollution and outright destruction, and community displacement are serious consequences of illegal mining. Cropland and waterways can be contaminated with unsanctioned mercury use, and families who live in close proximity can easily fall prey to toxic mercury poisoning.
While Mukasiri Sibanda of the Zimbabwe Environmental Law association suggests “registering more artisanal miners to try to tackle the illegal industry,” problems with mercury use and leftover mercury contamination from the current slew of illegal mining activity will be a persistent issue. After all, mercury is a key ingredient in many artisanal and small-scale gold mining operations around the world—the neurotoxic substance is frighteningly efficient at recovering gold.
Sibanda notes the importance of self-sufficiency in revitalising the Zimbabwean economy, stating “[artisanal mining] provides an opportunity for communities to directly own and control their natural resources,” and that “through registering artisanal miners, communities can be empowered to develop themselves.” As such, methods for replacing mercury (as well as removing it after-the-fact) in the gold mining process will be as critical to Zimbabwe’s socio-economic revival as the act of mining itself.
Clean Mining, a part of the Clean Earth Technologies group, has recently proven its award-winning, non-toxic solution to be a genuine answer for the rampant use of mercury in ASGM. And for the purposes of remediating mercury pollution, Clean Earth Technologies’ patented polymer sorbent shows promise.
Made from easily accessible waste products like used cooking oil and elemental sulphur, the polymer rapidly traps mercury in the various forms that it is encountered in industries like gold mining. CET is currently researching new and more advanced methods of optimising the already rapid uptake between its sorbent and toxic mercury in waste streams.