Suriname: Reducing the Use and Release of Mercury by Artisanal Gold Miners in Latin America
Partners: United States Department of State (USDoS)
In 2015 the AGC embarked on a USDoS funded project to improve our understanding of the Surinamese ASGM sector, and to begin to develop potential collaborative models and approaches towards mercury reduction in the country’s widespread alluvial ASGM operations. The AGC project in Suriname reviewed the Surinamese ASGM sector through a combination of stakeholder interviews, literature reviews, and field visits to better understand current realities, mercury usage, and potential for technical interventions. The culmination of this effort has been the production of a Suriname ASGM sector report, completed in collaboration between the AGC and the Paramaribo based consultancy Social Solutions. The report aims to provide the reader with a comprehensive introduction to the ASGM sector, including a legal assessment of the current regulatory framework and formality of the sector, an overview of mining and processing practices currently employed, inventory estimates for ASGM workforce (11,000-15,000), annual gold production (18.9 T), and annual mercury use (63.0 T), and assessment of existing supply chains.
(produced in collaboration between the AGC and Paramaribo based consultancy Social Solutions)
The project also assessed the potential for mercury reduction through technical interventions, and found willingness from various stakeholders including miners, government, NGOs and private industry to identify and develop alternatives to mercury use in ASGM. While many groups have interest in achieving this goal, there is need for a coordinated effort to deploy the experience and knowledge of the various groups towards a Suriname specific mercury free solution. Suriname offers an excellent opportunity for the development of a collaborative approach between ASGM and LSM mining operations towards a more responsible gold mining sector as a whole, and is an excellent candidate location to pilot ASGM/LSM collaborative models.
Nicaragua: Reducing the Use and Release of Mercury by Artisanal Gold Miners in Latin America
Partners: United States Department of State
The AGC’s 3 year USDoS funded project in Nicaragua, from 2013-2016, was focused on developing a technical and governance model to reduce, and where feasible, eliminate mercury use from the country’s ASGM sector. Whole ore mercury amalgamation is prevalent throughout the artisanal mining regions of Nicaragua. Processing is predominantly conducted using a rudimentary milling and amalgamation system referred to as the rastra (see photo to the left). The AGC project worked to develop small-scale processing alternatives to replace these rastras with gravimetric processing systems. The AGC vision developed for Nicaragua consisted of a hub and spoke model, where a series of primary gravimetric systems replace rastras and other small-scale processing systems, providing tails for secondary treatment via central cyanidation.
The AGC worked in collaboration with the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) and local mining cooperative La Fragua in an attempt to install a pilot gravimetric processing plant to replace an existing rastra in the Department of Chinandega. The AGC assisted the mining cooperative throughout the formalization process, and worked together with MEM and MARENA to acquire mining and environmental permits for installation of the processing system. Currently in Nicaragua, nearly all of the ~1000 ASGM processing operations are operating informally, without having completed the environmental and permitting requirements set out in the legislation for the installation or operation of such metallic mineral processing systems. The reason is largely the lengthy, costly, and unrealistic process, and lack of differentiation of requirements for processing system evaluations, regardless of production capacity. Despite the design, development and importation of a mercury free processing system destined for the La Fragua Cooperative mining site, the project was unable to negotiate the environmental and formal requirements for the installation of the plant, and ultimately the installation never occurred. This process provided insight into the barriers and complications ASGM communities face in attempting to formalise, a primary driver to the continued informality of the sector.
Nicaragua ASGM Sector Report (produced by the AGC)
The project was successful in assessing the country’s ASGM sector, and produced a sector overview report aimed to introduce the reader to various aspects of ASGM in Nicaragua. The report includes information on the current mining and processing practices, formal requirements and formalisation process, inventory data for mercury use, gold production and miner populations, and additional information on potential mercury reduction models for the sector.
Finally, a detailed regional inventory assessment was conducted for the Chontales Department. A Chontales department inventory report has been produced to highlight and elaborate the inventory process, on the ground realities of ASGM in Chontales, and to serve as an inventory case study for others wishing to develop regional inventory estimates.
Ivory Coast: National Action Plan Development and ASGM Inventory Training
Partners: Strategic Approach for International Chemicals Management (SAICM) and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
As a part of the Strategic Approach for International Chemicals Management (SAICM), the Artisanal Gold Council (AGC) has commenced work in the Ivory Coast. The SAICM Ivory Coast program aims to reduce the risks associated with mercury use in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASGM) while improving the environmental and economic performance of the sector. The obligations surrounding ASGM under the Minamata convention on mercury will play a key role in guiding this process.
The AGC carried out a two day training session with government officials, academics, civil society and ASGM representatives in an effort to build capacity within the country to carry out ASGM inventories and to design and implement a National Action Plan (NAP) on ASGM. A key component of this training was the elaboration of ASGM inventory methodologies. A selected group will follow up on the training by carrying out a partial inventory of the ASGM sector in the Ivory Coast under the guidance of the AGC.
Strengthened capacity and a national inventory on ASGM in the Ivory Coast will assist the government in developing and implementing an effective and pragmatic National Action Plan on ASGM, making the Ivory Coast a leader in the governance of the ASGM.
Developed and refined by the AGC, this training is the first of its kind in West Africa. The development of inventory and NAP training is a part of a larger goal of the AGC to increase knowledge and understanding of ASGM while finding innovative and effective solutions for building local capacity for ASGM governance.
Francophone West Africa: Mercury Reduction, Formalization, and Supply Chain Management in Artisanal Gold Mining
Partners: United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Global Environment Facility (GEF), and United States Department of State (USDoS)
The Artisanal Gold Council has increased our programming to support the artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) sector in Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal.
The regional program will build local capacities to address the growing issues surrounding ASGM including the use of mercury and cyanide, regularization of the informal economy, health and safety, and supply chain management.
The AGC will work with local and international partners to create robust ASGM national inventories, mercury free processing sites, and innovative paths forward towards commercialization. Additionally, in collaboration with national governments the AGC will help create National Strategic Action Plans for mercury which will inform the globally legally binding instruments on mercury currently being negotiated through the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP).
Ghana: Delivery of Mercury-free and Mercury Reduction Technologies and Training to Artisanal Gold Miners
The Artisanal Gold Council delivered mercury reduction and mercury-free technology training to artisanal gold miners at 5 different mine locations in Ghana as apart of a larger Fairtrade Fair mined certification program by Solidaridad. During this visit to Ghana the AGC conducted assessments of the participating mine sites and delivered highly specialized, site-specific, training on mercury-free and mercury-reduction technologies.
Ghana is the second largest gold producer in Africa. The objectives of the training sessions were to improve the work safety and responsibility of the miners with respect to transitioning away from mercury-use and improve mercury safety during this transition period. To accomplish this, a flexible mercury-free and mercury-reduced training curriculum was designed to be delivered to miners in this “train the trainer” model. This hands-on approach included selected topics such as the correct use and construction of retorts, mercury-free direct smelting techniques, 99.9% purity gold refining, and general mercury health and safety information.
Francophone West Africa: Reducing Mercury in Artisanal Gold Mining
Partner: United States Department of State (USDoS)
August 2011 – 2014
The principle goal of the project is to develop and implement an intervention model that self replicates to reduce and eventually eliminate mercury use in small scale gold mining operations, while improving health, environment and wealth of ASGM communities. Self-replication requires incentives and education. Measures of success for the intervention model will include: improvement of economic opportunities for miners and their communities, increased knowledge of health, safety, and environment, and a measured reduction in mercury use.
The project includes training and education programs using a variety of approaches including print media, demonstrations, social media, and cell phones. There are four phases to the project: (A) Preliminary Coordination; (B) Pilot Community Implementation and Training; (C) Replication to Other Communities; (D) Evaluation, Project Closure and Future Planning.
Partners: Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), United Nations Industrial Development Organization
July 2011- March 2012
The Artisanal Gold Council (AGC) was invited by Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to conduct an emergency assessment and recommendations on the implementation of a safer mining practices within artisanal and small-scale gold mining communities of Zamfara State, Nigeria.
A safer mining program is urgently needed in Zamfara in order to minimize and where feasible eliminate lead and mercury exposures to thousands of men, women and children. Our suggested program would include improved extraction technologies that minimize contamination, waste management to permanently remove and contain contaminated materials from communities and ASGM sites, health and safety education, and policy evaluation and analysis to ensure full government support.
Partners: Mongolian Ministry of Mining, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
The Artisanal Gold Council visited several ASGM sites in northern Mongolia to conduct assessments of the sector’s needs, scale, legal status, and gold supply chain. A complete gaps analysis was also conducted to provide practical suggestions for sector improvement, and a Global Environment Facility (GEF) and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) full scale proposal.
Mongolia, like many other locations across the globe, is experiencing the rapid growth of their ASGM activities, which now account for a large proportion of the country’s GDP. The legal structure has created an unique situation for small-scale gold miners in Mongolia, and an excellent opportunity to instigate improvements to their livelihoods and socioeconomic status.
Partners: European Environmental Bureau (EEB), AGENDA (Tanzania based NGO)
October 2010 – 2011
The Artisanal Gold Council, along with the EEB and AGENDA – a pioneering environmentally responsible development, collaborated on a project to reduce mercury emissions from gold shops in small-scale gold mining communities in Tanzania.
Following an initial assessment of the ASGM occurring in the Mwanza region, a detailed feasibility and implementation study was conducted to produce recommendations for improvements. To reduce the use and exposure of mercury, mercury vapour condensers were installed in gold shops. The condensers capture mercury vapour that would otherwise be released directly into ASM communities when amalgam is burned. The goals of the project were to encourage the propagation of this technology through demonstration of its economic and health benefits, and to increase awareness about the dangers of mercury exposure.
Partners: United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), Global Mercury Partnership (GMP)
January 2009 – 2011
The Artisanal Gold Council visited the Philippines on three separate occasions to make improvements to the level of knowledge and awareness of the country’s ASGM sector and in assistance in developing a robust National Strategic Plan. There are approximately 300,000 artisanal gold miners in the Philippines, which directly supports over 1 million people.
In addition, the Artisanal Gold Council along with UNEP and GMP facilitated the first Global Forum on Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining in December 2010 in Manila. The Global Forum was attended by approximately 100 participants from 17 national governments, as well as representatives from intergovernmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations. It explored policy, legal, technical and financial considerations of AGSM and in particular to how countries will be affected by the ongoing intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) process to develop a legally binding instrument to address mercury.
Partner: University of Mines and Technology (UMaT), Tarkwa, Ghana
August 2010 – 2011
The AGC worked with UMaT to develop, improve, and introduce direct smelting technology to groups of miners who use mercury to recover gold. Over the past five years, UMaT has successfully developed a direct smelting kit which has been provided to miners at subsidized rates. This work has demonstrated that purifying gold without the use of mercury is possible in this context. The kit consists of an efficient furnace, a few common compounds, and some other tools which enable gold concentrates to be directly smelted, thereby avoiding the mercury amalgamation step.
This project focused on testing, adapting, and improving the technology, as well as introducing the direct smelting approach to a wider audience. Education on the negative health impacts of mercury was delivered along with training on the direct smelting technology.