Artisanal, small-scale gold mining is a vital source of income, but it's also very dangerous because miners use toxic mercury to separate gold from ore. Mercury is a shiny liquid metal that attacks the nervous system. Exposure can cause lifelong disability and is particularly harmful to children. Dirty gold mining has devastated landscapes, polluted water supplies and contributed to the destruction of vital ecosystems.
Cyanide, mercury and other toxic substances are regularly released into the environment due to the extraction of dirty gold. Most consumers don't know where the gold in their products comes from or how it's extracted. Gold mining is one of the most destructive industries in the world. It can displace communities, contaminate drinking water, harm workers and destroy pristine environments.
It contaminates water and land with mercury and cyanide, endangering the health of people and ecosystems. The production of gold just for one wedding ring generates 20 tons of waste. While the list of retailers aligned in their opposition to dirty gold continues to grow, most gold is still quite dirty. Most of the world's gold is extracted from open pit mines, where huge volumes of land are extracted and processed for trace elements.
Earthworks estimates that, to produce enough raw gold to make a single ring, 20 tons of rock and soil are extracted and discarded. Much of this waste contains mercury and cyanide, which are used to extract gold from rock. The resulting erosion clogs streams and rivers and can eventually contaminate marine ecosystems deep below the mine. Exposing the depths of the earth to air and water also causes chemical reactions that produce sulfuric acid, which can seep into drainage systems.
Air quality is also compromised by gold mining, which releases hundreds of tons of elemental mercury into the air every year. For more than a century, cyanide, mercury and other toxic substances have been used in the gold mining process. Over time, the regular release of these aggressive chemicals has devastated landscapes, polluted water supplies and contributed to the destruction of vital ecosystems. Artisanal mining may sound picturesque, but it is generally a criminal activity and causes widespread environmental damage.
It is also the biggest source of mercury pollution in the world today, far surpassing other activities such as coal combustion and cement manufacturing. Although mercury is naturally found in the Earth's crust, it has many toxic effects on humans and animals, even at very low levels of exposure.