I read a report on The Guardian website this morning about illegal gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon (http://ow.ly/oHQ1E) and how the toxic waste (mainly mercury) from the process is adversely affecting the local communities in the southern Peruvian Amazon as well as contributing to deforestation. It is disturbing to say the least.
If you buy gold jewelry or invest in gold, you might be inadvertently contributing to the problem. Here’s some information about gold mining and more importantly, some clear suggestions on how you can avoid adding to the problem. You can say “No” to dirty gold through simple actions…
Gold mining in the tropics is a dirty business all the way around. It’s dangerous to workers, the environment and the local communities. The gold ring you may have on your finger or the gold chain that may be around your neck or the gold investments that may be in your financial portfolio is, in part, fueling rainforest destruction and human-rights abuses in tropical regions around the globe.
Gold mining has the distinction of being one of the most destructive industries in the world. The production of just one gold wedding band generates 20 tons of mine waste, according to Earthworks, an organization that runs the “No Dirty Gold” campaign against irresponsible gold mining!! Gold mining is particularly destructive in tropical areas such as Ghana, the Amazon, the Philippines, West Papua and Papua New Guinea, where both large- and small-scale mining outfits have cleared extensive amounts of vegetation and forest to access minerals below. The large mines require roads and open up more isolated areas to settlers and small-scale miners, who further destroy the rainforest with destructive activities and who sometimes spread disease to indigenous populations, where they still exist.
But perhaps even more destructive is the release of toxic chemicals such as mercury and cyanide, used in the process of gold extraction, into the environment. Small-scale miners, in particular, tend not to dispose of mercury properly, putting themselves, others and delicate tropical ecosystems at risk. This type of artisanal gold mining dumps more than 30 tons of the toxic metal in rivers and lakes in the Amazon region every year.
When mercury gets into the ecosystem, it becomes methylmercury andbio-accumulates up the food chain. When methylmercury gets into the human body, it can create a neurotoxin that causes birth defects and abnormal child development.
One particular tribe in the Amazon, the Yanomami, has been seriously affected by gold mining activities on its territory. “The Yanomami have had increased child mortality rates while their birth rates have declined, putting their very existence into risk,” an online resources reports on the issue.
In 2012, the Carnegie Amazon Mercury Ecoystem Project (CAMEP), a scientific research effort that brings together 8 Peruvian universities and NGOs with scientists from the Carnegie Institution for Science, focused on the pressing problem of mercury in Peru’s Madre de Dios region in the southern Amazon. Their study examined hair samples of 1,030 people in 25 communities across Madre de Dios. The study found that native communities had levels of mercury roughly five times that considered safe by the World Health Organisation (WHO), whereas people in urban areas had double the safe limit. The mercury contamination is believed to come from the diet of contaminated fish. The study’s leader, Luis E. Fernandez, told The Guardian, “Native communities rely almost exclusively on fish caught in the rivers and lakes as their primary protein source.”
Larger, open-pit mines in the tropics run by corporations do not have a good environmental track record either. Bellavista, an open-pit mine in Costa Rica, was suspended in 2007 due to ruptures in its leach pad lining releasing cyanide and other contaminants into the environment. A 1995 Guyana spill of waste holdings made international headlines when more than one billion gallons of cyanide-laced wastewater was released into a tributary of the Essequibo. It caused widespread die-offs of aquatic and land plant and animal life as well as contamination of drinking water for thousands of people.
Gold mining operations large and small also produces tons of sediment that devastates aquatic environments and wildlife. Sometimes the sediment can be the biggest problem of all.
Even worse are the human-rights violations that surround gold mining. In 1992, the Yanomami territory was finally recognized and protected by the Brazilian government’s creation of a federal indigenous reserve. However, in July 1993, a group of irate gold miners, furious that the reserve prohibited them from mining in certain areas, set out to exterminate an entire village of Yanomami, killing at least 16, in what some call genocide.
There are numerous reports of slave labor in small-scale mining operations. In The Slave Next Door, the authors. Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter, report that men and boys mine gold in Ghana and other tropical countries under terrible conditions and are exposed to danger in the mining shafts and suffer from mercury. “Enslaved men, women and children mine gold in Brazil, the Philippines and Peru,” they write. “The Amazonian miners work in terrible conditions with no pay and there is no way out for them,” Bales and Soodalter report.
Now if we could say don’t buy gold mined from these areas, we would. But with gold mining, it’s more complicated. Gold is mined in more than 60 countries, including, as we mentioned, many countries in the tropics. Yet unlike other commodities, gold has no traceability. The industry that supplies gold to retailers is widely dispersed, with many refineries purchasing the metal from mines around the world—often melting the different sources together before shipping it off to manufacturers or banks. Dr. Assheton Carter, Director of Energy and Mining at Conservation International, said, “You don’t know if your gold comes from a responsible company like Rio Tinto or Newmont, or from a child laborer in Sierra Leone,” in a 2009 CNN report.
So when you go to your local jeweler and purchase a piece made of gold, you are likely propagating this cycle of destruction to rainforests and those who live there.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
To ensure you are not harming rainforests when you buy gold, follow these suggestions:
• Buy recycled gold jewelry.
• Buy vintage jewelry. If you type the words “vintage jewelry” into any online search engine, you’ll find dozens of results.
• Purchase sustainably sourced gold from retailers such as Tiffany & Co. (www.tiffany.com). Tiffany & Co. was the first retailer to work with Earthworks’ No Dirty Gold campaign. Or for more casual jewelry, check out the Love Earth collection available from Walmart and Sam’s Club (www.loveearthinfo.com), where you can actually trace the origin of your jewelry! Both companies source their sustainable gold from the same U.S. mine, which goes to great lengths to minimize its impact on the environment. No rainforests are harmed when you buy their sustainably sourced gold.
Many people invest in gold at times of of economic uncertainty and inflation. Talk to your financial advisor to find better investment alternatives to gold that are non-destructive to the environment and communities, but still provide stability and safety. Research, investigate and talk to others to find and support better investments. Explore the exciting new green energy technologies that are emerging!
Also, be sure to visit the No Dirty Gold website and learn more about gold mining: www.nodirtygold.org. You can find a list of retailers that have pledged to work toward more sustainable gold sources.
Say no to dirty gold. Help rainforests by sticking to the recycled, vintage and sustainably sourced gold—and investment alternatives.
Here are two companies making beautiful jewelry with recycled gold:
Appointment at showroom
in San Francisco
Green Karat www.greenkarat.com
Tiffany& Co. www.tiffany.com.
Love Earth www.loveearthinfo.com
No Dirty Cold (Earthworks) www.nodirtygold.org,