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Gold Mining - Too Much Damage?

Updated on September 7, 2017

"...The rush is on..." What are we singing about? Gold, of course; nothing else produces the same excitement! Sure, there are songs about other types of mining: "...Well I'm proud to be...". There are mines for silver, copper, zinc, and other metals, but nothing produces as much excitement as gold...nothing!

Gold is shiny. It is usually found in tiny pieces, in streams, deserts, and mountains (and occasionally in other places). It is highly malleable. It is the best of all electrical conductors. Chances are, it will always be mined. Gold is so valuable, it receives unique treatment. A massive amount of gold is poured into bars, and locked away as an investment, instead of being used as a useful substance.

Gold is a miner's dream. You discover it, you evaluate it, you mine what you have discovered, then you move on...hopefully to another gold deposit. It works similarly for individuals as it does for large mining companies. It works the same in far-off lands as it does in the United States Of America.

As exciting as it is, gold raises many environmental concerns.

Gold mining, in the United States that is, is ordinarily done in remote locations. This activity is usually a disturbance to local wildlife, from the roar and dust-raising activities of mechanical equipment, to the muddying of creeks and rivers.

The exposure of the mineral pyrite (fool's gold) to oxygen in the air creates acid in local water supplies. Gold mining towns are known for the acidity of their public waters.

Perhaps the most notorious environmental defect of gold mines is the release of the chemical mercury into the surrounding air. Gold is separated from the rock it is naturally attached to, and attached to the imported mercury. The mercury is separated from the gold by means of heat, and then released into the atmosphere. This mercury travels for miles and is found present in distant environments and food sources.

Happily, miners have begun a trend of replacing the chemical mercury, which is used in most mining operations, with the less harmful and equally effective chemical borax. For example, the four largesr gold mines in the state of Nevada have recently worked together voluntarily to reduce the use of mercury, and increase the use of borax, in their mining operations.

Gold mining: it has always been seen as an adventure. Gold will probably always be mined. Let's be careful how we do it!


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