Black market mercury a booming industry in Southeast Asia

Black market mercury a booming industry in Southeast Asia

It might not be obvious, but the ugly industry of black market mercury, much of which fuels illegal gold mining, thrives just around the corner.

The statistics are staggering. Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is responsible for 25% of all gold production, but generates nearly 40% of all global mercury pollution. In ASGM, miners use mercury to separate gold from ore, at great risk to their health and the health of their communities. Exposure from it is endemic in this form of mining. The vapours from it can bypass the blood-brain barrier, and toxic mercury can greatly impair early childhood development. High enough levels of exposure are fatal.

Richard C. Paddock, in an article by The New York Times, writes that Indonesia “stands out for its huge number of outlaw gold miners.” According to environmentalist Yuyun Ismawati, an estimated 10,000 tonnes of mercury is manufactured in Indonesia annually, with a third of that production going to gold mining. Inevitably, it leaches into the ground, contaminating sources of food and water, and this most certainly constitutes a public health crisis.

As a result of this, the wider population of Indonesia is also at risk of toxic exposure. However, with no set of rules and regulations in place to enforce appropriate action, and alleged corruption by Indonesian authorities who help set up illegal backyard mining operations, the mercury and mining industries in Indonesia continue to flourish. On top of what Clean Earth Technologies could provide to help remove mercury as the primary leaching solution in gold mining—its proprietary thiosulphate-based solution is non-toxic and eco-friendly—the company is also developing a possible tool for the remediation of mercury pollution.

Clean Earth Technologies’ sustainable and environmentally friendly polysulfide is a polymer made from two ingredients which are readily accessible: elemental sulphur, a by-product of the petroleum industry, and unsaturated, recycled cooking oils. This material rapidly traps mercury in the various forms encountered in industry—metallic, ionic, organic, and gaseous. On-going research is focused on optimising the already rapid uptake by the polymer sorbent.

*Source: The New York Times

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