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Clara Zeinfeld

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Why NO Eradication of MERCURY and CYANIDE?

In researching natural resources, in particular gold and silver, I have come across some very horrific facts about the mining process that I wasn't aware of.
For instance, research has identified 41 economies which currently or in recent decades have relied significantly on mining. Many of these are developing countries with high poverty levels. There are millions of miners who unintentionally and in many cases unknowingly are creating a devastating destruction to our environment and health because of the use of Cyanide and Mercury. The damage to human life, water supplies and air pollution seems almost if not totally irreparable. Although it is most prevalent in 3rd world countries, it is not solely contained to them.
I have read where a few organizations and governments are aware of the problem or actually have been made aware of it only after an environmental disaster or crisis occurs - but other than fines and "slaps on the hands" of the perpetrators, these issues are swept under the rug.
Why hasn't an alternative to these very harmful chemicals not been introduced or adopted so that these miners who know only this as a way of life may continue to do this in a safe, healthy and environmentally friendly way that will benefit not only them, but the rest of the world?

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  • Sep 20 2011: Bob-
    There is an alternative that exists and is cost effective to boot. The problem is not with the process but with introducing it to an environment of entrenched interests that will not be replaced without a fight. Chemical company lobbiests with politicians in their pocket, mining companies who could care less about the destruction they bring to the land and surrounding eco system and the fact that small technology companies do not have the financing to mount a campaign of awareness that the general public can latch on to. Frans is right. Most people are not even aware of how much of the planet is affected by the global mining industry.
    Perhaps the time is right politically and economically for green technolgy to be introduced. Hope so.
  • Sep 19 2011: The answer as to why environmentally friendly gold processes have not easily been adopted is a complex one. It is sad to say but the politics of Governments, including our own, do not necessarily have the good of the people in mind when making policy decisions. Less developed countries, where most artisanal miners are located, are even more politicized and corrupt.The right party has to be in power, with all participants, from the top on down, getting something for themselves,( gaining recognition, funding projects, etc.), and at the same time the opposition party doing everything possible to prevent it, less too much credit be given when election time comes. Meanwhile the issue involved remains in place while new parties get elected and the cycle begins again.
    Chemical lobbies and special interests who have long standing relationships with mining communities have a lot of money and power to make sure they are not replaced. Their actions are never publicized but always at work. The growing global ecological concern for the planet's water and air supply is another factor which is calling for bans on cyanide and mercury. An accumulation of concerned aware global citizenry and organizations outside the mining community may finally be enough to break the hold of these interests.
    There are several alternatives to cyanide and mercury trying to grab a foothold in these communities. Gravitational devices from HPC recovery, biological separationsf like Bio-Ox tank , magnetism and shaking sluices are a few. Perhaps the most promising is from Haber Inc. who has a 100% environmentally safe separation process that is slowly getting recognition around the world. You can see their process at www.habercorp.com
  • Sep 21 2011: Just a little sample of what I have been reading about. It seems there isn't any land that is sacred or forbidden if there are resources to be found on it.

    Tibetan plateau threatened by "ecological destruction"
    Published Date: 12-09-2011
    Source: Zee News, statement
    Source Date: 05-09-2011

    The Tibetan government-in-exile (located in India) claims in a new report that the province's plateau is "staring at ecological destruction due to extensive mineral extraction, deforestation and unscientific construction of highways and railways by the Chinese".

    The government is calling for the region to be declared an "exploitation-free zone" to "benefit both Tibetans and the world community."

    MAC editorial note: Chinese firm, Sichuan Hongda, has said it plans to construct a $1.6 bln molybdenum-copper processing plant in Sichuan Province, feedstock for which would be sourced from Tibetan deposits owned by the parent company and Sichuan's Hanlong Group Co. Ltd.'s Australian assets [Interfax China Metals & Mining, 2 September 2011].

    http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=11165&l=1
  • Sep 20 2011: Thank you all for your insightful input and comments. Months ago when I first started doing my research on resources I never imagined finding a world where countries so abundantly rich in resources and often very environmentally sensitive would be amongst the poorest of nations and people. they call it the "resource curse".
    Richard, I am not totally surprised that the San Francisco Bay would be contaminated even 100 years after the gold rush. The lasting effects of mercury are devastating. It is encouraging to see however, that there are some companies and organizations (www.ICMM.com anwww.responsiblejewellery.com) that are involved in making a difference. Bob, your right. These organizations have an uphill fight.......between their own bureaucracies, political pressures from lobbyist and mining companies that have their own interest at hand first.
    No Prima-facie - thank you for the info regarding the different processes available to the industry. In my readings some of the Intl. Organizations involved with the mining industry do make mention of some of them, but it seems that they still use one environmentally harmful chemical or another at some point in their process. If not, they require tons of valuable water that is in very short supply in many of these villages. Some of the equipment is not affordable or readily available to a large portion of the miners. The link you provided for the environmentally friendly company, does seem promising. I will do further reading on it. They seem to have a good program that can be put in place rather easily.......STAMP. By the way, were you aware that they have a blog??? I found it to be a very helpful blog. In fact, many of the articles I have read on this problem are posted there along with some very informative videos. www.habertalk.com
    I borrowed this youtube... I hope you all get a chance to view it.
    This is an absolutely heart-wrenching story http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5abRD9h78BI&feature=pl
  • Sep 20 2011: "Why hasn't an alternative to these very harmful chemicals not been introduced or adopted"

    Either an alternative does not exist or it is not cost effective.

    Example, A particular company wanted to use a "green" epoxy in the manufacture of its products. It quickly became apparent that the "green" alternative created a VERY unsafe product in terms of quality and reliability. (This product was so unstable that it could not be sold)
    This company was forced by the lack of an effective "green" alternative to go back to the synthetic epoxy which has been proven to cause cancer in workers not properly protected and exposed to the substance.
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    Sep 20 2011: Although I have no knowledge of this topic, I just want to thank you Clara for bringing forward what you have learned. This is the real spirit of TED members in action. I guess this also partially answers the question I posed on what happened to all of the investigative reporters- maybe they are becoming caring people like you, regular people who in the course of their lives stop and share what they know on places like TED. Thank you Clara.
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    Sep 20 2011: Good question
    I saw several documentaries on the problem.
    Apparantly it has no impact on those that can make a change.
    For most people it is far away and they give their priority to other problems.
  • Sep 20 2011: Close to home we see the devastating use of mercury. All the streams coming into San Francisco Bay are contaminated with mercury from the Gold Rush dating back 100 years. That mercury still bleeds into the water and is a source that keeps on giving. Good to know, no primafacie---I had never heard about those separation methods; I hope they gain general acceptance. Due to the bubble in gold prices we can only assume bad mining practices will continue.