Gold has been a symbol of wealth and beauty throughout history. Yet most consumers don’t know where the gold in their products comes from, or what was sacrificed to produce it. Unfortunately, the extraction of this precious metal from the earth is one of the most destructive processes in the world, and all too often, is carried out with disregard for the environment and basic human rights.
The waste generated from gold mining has the potential to poison water supplies, threatening the health of surrounding communities and ecosystems. Dozens of toxic chemicals including arsenic, cyanide, and mercury are used in the process of extracting gold from the ore, and are subsequently dumped into waterways. As many as 180 million tonnes of toxic wastes are dumped annually worldwide. Exposure to these chemicals can be detrimental, not only to the health of mine workers, but also that of their families, their communities, and the surrounding environment.
Several gold mines are located in areas which are deemed protected or of high conservation value. These mines pose a major threat to the biodiversity of these ecosystems. Disruptions such as deforestation and water contamination make the land uninhabitable for not only the local wildlife, but also the indigineous peoples who are forced to relocate once a mining lease is granted.
The effects of air and water pollution reach far beyond the immediate area of the mines. Toxic chemicals such as mercury, once released, can travel great distances, ultimately settling in lakes and rivers. Through the process of biomagnification, toxins then accumulate in predatory fish in levels which are dangerous for human consumption. Exposure to high levels of mercury has been linked to neurological and developmental problems in pregnant women and young children.
Disregard for regulation of working conditions coupled with a lack of proper risk management made mining one of the most dangerous professions in the world. Workers are put at risk of on-site injury and fatalities from collapses, fires, heat exhaustion, and other hazards. Added to this are long term health effects caused by exposure to toxic chemicals such as respiratory illnesses and other life-long complications. This is made all the more troubling when it is revealed that tens of thousands of children work in mines located in Africa, Asia, and South America.
Although there are regulations in place worldwide to combat these detrimental effects, the industry still profits from illegal mining operations around the world. You can help decrease the demand for dirty gold by ensuring the gold products you buy are sourced legally and ethically. This can be difficult for the average consumer so one way to be safe is purchasing second hand or making sure the company you support uses recycled materials.
At RIVANewYork, we’ve dedicated ourselves to the production of ethically sourced jewelry by using only recycled gold in our products. Another option that we’d love to explore at some point is the use of fairmined certified gold. Fairmined is an organization that licenses ethically operated and responsibly owned small scale gold mining operations.