TOS forum, Just-Published Paper (In Press)


Reducing global mercury pollution with simultaneous gold recovery from small-scale mining tailings

Peter W.U. Appela and Kim H. Esbensenb
aSenior research scientist, E-mail: [email protected]
bConsultant, independent researcher, Dr (h.c.), E-mail: [email protected]

The increasing population on planet Earth has many impacts—one is a strong influence on the amount of mercury released to the environment. The worst influence stems from the rapidly increasing number of small-scale gold miners in Asia, Africa, Central and South America, who presently provide food on the table for tens of millions of households. Small-scale gold miners use vast amounts of mercury to capture the gold, and much of this mercury is released directly to the environment. A large part evaporates to the atmosphere and the rest is transported downstream in rivers ending up in the oceans. The amount of mercury released is phenomenal: an estimated 3000 tons of mercury is released annually by small-scale gold miners alone. A vast proportion enters the food chain in fish and sea mammals, as well as in rice polluted by spillage waters which enters irrigation pathways. Human consumption of polluted fish and/or rice already today has a crippling impact on human health in some countries, and this will have even more severe consequences if the current situation is not changed radically and rapidly. It is of particular concern if mercury-intoxicated women become pregnant, because the foetus extracts mercury from the mother. The human foetus is much more sensitive to mercury intoxication and thus has a high risk of being born with brain damage as well as physical disabilities. Over just one generation this will cause reduced intelligence for exposed children. Through such organisations as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World community has become acutely aware of the rapidly increasing global mercury pollution. The treaty designed to protect human health and nature, the “Minamata Convention” has today been signed by the majority of world countries. Signatory countries are hereby obliged to start initiatives to reduce and even stop mercury use. This grim outlook has prompted a group of international concerned researchers and small-scale gold miners from Philippines to start teaching small-scale gold miners to work without the use of mercury and simultaneously to find ways to clean mercury-polluted gold mining tailings, which are one of the main polluting agents. This latter will have an immediate positive economic effect for the communities involved, which should be a significant motivation to change to non-mercury recovery processes. We here describe the specific technological drive to be able to go mercury free.


(since September 2017)