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Small Gold Mining Can Be Beautiful: Problems and Possible Solutions

In recent years Artisanal Gold Mining (AGM) accounted for approximately 12% of all the gold produced in the world involving around 16 million miners and more than 150 million people indirectly in more than 70 developing countries. This is a result of lack of employment in rural areas associated with the increase of gold price by more than 600% over the past decade. As a consequence AGM is today the largest consumers of mercury releasing almost 1500 tonnes of Hg to the air and water courses. Artisanal mining, in particular gold mining, is the main social and environmental problem of the mining sector. Different approaches to intervening in artisanal gold mining communities are taken by different groups, governments, and organizations around the world to reduce pollution. Some believe legislation is the key while others think that introducing new technologies are the best solution.

This e-book brings in a bullet format the main topics related to artisanal gold mining based on the author's experience of more than 30 years working in this sector. This work shows the differences of ore processing methods used in different sites and highlights the main sources of mercury and cyanide pollution. It brings technical explanations about the mercury and cyanide behaviours in the environment and their toxicological implications. But the focus of this work is to highlight that education is key to reduce pollution and transform artisanal miners into profitable and responsible miners. Examples from Portovelo, Ecuador are brought to demonstrate how small gold mining can be beautiful.


Table of Contents:

  • Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASGM)
  • Public Perception and Social Aspects of ASM
  • Structure of the Mining Business
  • Gold Reserves Are Not Increasing
  • Number of Artisanal Gold Miners
  • Uses of Gold
  • A Bit of Gold Mineralogy
  • Some Basic Concepts of Mineral Processing
  • Use and Problems with Mercury in ASM
  • Use and Problems with Cyanide in ASM
  • Outline of Problems with Hg and CN
  • Solutions to Reduce Pollution from ASM
  • Economic Feasibility for Small-scale Gold Plant
  • Political Issues
  • It Is Important to Know the Miners’ Needs
  • Some Important Points
Author: Marcello M. Veiga, P.Eng., PhD
Published: December 2013

About the Author:

Dr. Marcello Veiga is a Professor at the Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. He has worked for the past 35 years, as a metallurgical engineer and environmental geochemist for mining and consulting companies in: Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, China, Ecuador, Ghana, Guinea, Guyana, Indonesia, Laos, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Peru, South Africa, Sudan, Suriname, Tanzania, US, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.
From 1977 to 1997, he was employee of the Brazilian Center of Mineral Technology, Vale do Rio Doce company, Paulo Abib Engineering and Techmat Consulting (own company). He has worked extensively on environmental, health and social issues related to mining. From 2002 to 2008, he has worked as an expert and Chief Technical Advisor of the Global Mercury Project for UNIDO - United Nations Industrial Development Organization, in Vienna. This included the environmental and health assessment of mercury pollution in artisanal gold mining in Asia, Africa and South America as well as the implementation of procedures to reduce mercury emissions and local fabrication of pieces of equipment to reduce exposure of artisanal miners to mercury vapours and increase gold recovery. Since 2008 he has been key consultant for the UNIDO Mercury Project in Colombia, ACME-UBC Cyanide Project in Guyana, UBC-CIDA project of eco-health in Ecuador, AngloGold Ashanti Project in Colombia, IAMGold in Suriname, Cassius Venture in Nicaragua and US Dept of State project for replacing mercury in artisanal mining in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.


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