MSE 342 ASM paper.doc

MSE 342 ASM paper.doc - Laura Andersen Professor Brush MSE...

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Laura Andersen Professor Brush MSE 342 March 17, 2007 The problems of mercury contamination due to artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASM) Introduction: Most attention in the mining industry focuses on the advanced mining sector in which there is an abundance of knowledge and financial support which allow for the design and utilization of practical and safe mining processes. On the contrary, miners in many underdeveloped areas of the world extract minerals by artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), typically a dangerous activity and a threat to the environment. Although no exact definition of ASM has been established, it is most widely referred to as the application of the most basic mining processes by uneducated and unskilled workers. The recent rise in the value of gold has created a new rush for gold in many of these developing countries, leading to an increase in ASM activity throughout the world. The simplified amalgamation process used by the miners involves dangerous applications of the toxic element mercury, which creates a hazardous working environment for the miners and a significant amount of pollution to the surrounding water, soil, and atmosphere. This dangerous amalgamation process is in need of improvement or advancement in order to protect the miners involved and the surrounding environment. Unfortunately, ASM provides the only source of income for most of the miners, thus maximum profit is needed with minimum investment. ASM, which is simple, available, and cheap, seems reasonable to these uneducated miners whom are either unaware of or choose to ignore the dangers of the mercury amalgamation process. The ASM process: The amalgamation technique in artisanal and small-scale gold mining involves extracting gold from soils and rocks with the use of liquid mercury. The process is dangerous, largely frowned upon, and in most situations, conducted illegally or in extremely rural areas which are under no government jurisdiction [1]. In such a process, first, large amounts of soils and rocks are dug up, passed through a series of grounding mills, and centrifuged to create a metal-rich concentrate. The concentrate is then mixed with liquid mercury and creates an amalgam of gold and mercury 1
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resulting due to mercury’s unique characteristic that allows it to bind with most metals [2]. Water is then added to the system, allowing the metal amalgam to settle at the bottom for an easier separation process. The slurry separated during this process contains tailings which contain traces of mercury, and are often carelessly discarded into the environment [2]. On the other hand,
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This note was uploaded on 04/07/2008 for the course MSE 342 taught by Professor Brush during the Winter '08 term at University of Washington.

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MSE 342 ASM paper.doc - Laura Andersen Professor Brush MSE...

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