The Trajectory of Lost Mercury in Artisanal and Small Scale Gold Extraction in Ghana
The Artisanal and Small Scale Mining (ASSM) industry is of great importance to the Ghanaian economy. It provides employment for the teeming youth directly and indirectly and produces gold for the local goldsmiths, among other benefits. Concomitant to their operations, ASSM causes significant environmental pollution with chemicals, predominantly mercury. Mercury is used by small scale miners in the processing of ore mined because it is relatively cheap, easy to use and readily available. The laws regulating small scale gold mining in Ghana do not forbid the use of mercury even though there is a loud outcry against the use of mercury in small scale gold mining. The operations have resulted in the discharge of mercury into the environment indiscriminately. No attempt is made by the miners to recover lost mercury hence all of it is lost to the environment. This paper presents the findings of a study that investigated the trajectory of the mercury lost into the environment. The results showed that 2 g of mercury was lost to the environment for every gram of gold recovered through ASSM; 39% of it was lost to the atmosphere due to roasting of the amalgam whilst the remaining 61% was lost into water and spillage onto the ground.