Thursday, January 30, 2014

Gold mining in Indonesia

In AP Environmental Science, we keep track of current environmental news. Here's a snippet from our non-renewable resources unit - my reflection on a New York Times article on gold mining in Indonesia.

What do we want? Fancy gold jewelry or brain damage, kidney malfunctioning, and dysfunctional neurological development for those that provide the metals? 

A recent investigation of Indonesia’s gold mining industry shows us an alarming trend: one hundred grams of mercury are incorporated into the purified gold amalgam during the processing stage. 

Some environmental activists believe that the mercury is not being legally imported, but smuggled into Indonesia for small-scale miners, under the radar. It seems preposterous that the miners would be willing to put themselves at risk but in the lower income level regions of Indonesia’s mining industry, lack of education and high gold prices are to blame. Miners burn the mercury after purifying the gold with it, in turn releasing the heavy metal into the atmosphere and any liquid excesses into nearby water bodies. 

But the damage isn’t limited to wildlife. Children in the area been found to have dysfunctional motor skills, while parents that operate the gold purifying businesses have internal mercury levels as high has 25 parts per million, as opposed to the World Health Organization’s healthy standard of one ppm. I believe that when environmental degradation and health hazards coincide, it’s a sign that the manufacturing process and world of consumerism must change. 

Buyers’ demand for precious metals, prices, and purity often obscure the adverse environmental and health impacts behind the curtain of air conditioned showrooms and thief proof cases. Educational programs on both sides of the spectrum – manufacturing and consuming – need to be implemented for healthier mining. 

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