Could tons of neurotoxic mercury now stored in the United States wind up in the hands of poverty-stricken gold miners in developing countries and eventually be released into the environment, where it could end up entering the human food chain? An article scheduled for the May 28 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS' weekly newsmagazine, explores that possibility in a script that reads like an environmental version of the hit film, Blood Diamond.
The article, written by C&EN Senior Editor Cheryl Hogue, reveals a little-known market for mercury , a toxic liquid metal now being phased out for most industrial uses in developed countries because of toxicity, among millions of small-scale gold miners in Asia, South America and Africa. Miners add mercury as they sift soil and rock, knowing that mercury will capture bits of the precious metal to form an alloy from which the gold then can be separated and sold . During the retrieval process, , the alloy is heated and toxic mercury is driven into the air.
C&EN describes upcoming decisions in which U. S. government officials will influence the fate of tons of mercury now housed in 8 domestic industrial facilities, in the face of market forces involving intense demand for the toxic metal among small-scale gold miners. These decisions will also affect U.S. recycling companies that reclaim mercury from waste such as discarded compact fluorescent light bulbs and thermostats, and that financially depend on selling that mercury on the world market.
Article: "Mercury in Aging Chemical Plants Could End in and on the Hands of Gold Miners"