GOLD’S DIRTY LITTLE SECRET
People have loved gold for thousands of years. But, beautiful gold jewelry has some dirty little secrets. Let me shine some light on some common gold mining practices and mention an alternative.
Gold mining is terrible for the environment
- It is still common for large scale miners to use cyanide to extract gold from ore bearing rock. The process is called “heap leaching” and involves pouring cyanide over huge piles of crushed rock. As the chemical seeps through the pile it binds with the gold. Further processing separates the gold from the liquid. These toxic piles of earth can remain poisonous long after mining stops.
- Artisanal miners, in some cases children, commonly use mercury to extract gold from ore bearing rock. The mercury binds to the gold and then is burned off leaving the gold behind. Skin contact with mercury is poisonous but, breathing the fumes is even worse. Neurological damage to these miners is common.
- These very toxic chemicals can pollute waterways for decades. As recently as 2015 the abandoned King Mine in Colorado spilled toxic waste water into nearby rivers affecting drinking water in three states and the Navajo Nation. It’s no wonder that many are concerned about the potential Pebble Mine in Alaska.
Recycled Gold is a great alternative to mined gold
For several years we have used recycled gold in all of the custom jewelry we create. And whenever possible we melt client metal and form it into the desired new item. This reduces demand for mined gold but doesn’t completely solve the problem. Unfortunately, we still work with some jewelry companies that use mined gold.
Fair-trade Gold mining looks promising
Fair-trade gold mines are relatively small mines that are monitored by outside organizations for working condition, worker safety, chemical handling, and environmental protection. These mines typically charge a premium and use those extra funds to support the local community. While still a very niche product this model shows promise.