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Low-Mercury and Mercury-Free Solutions to Hand for Some Sectors of Gold Mining Industry at INC4 Meeting
02/ 07/ 2012

Low-Mercury and Mercury-Free Solutions to Hand for Some Sectors of Gold Mining Industry at INC4 MeetingUNEP and the Global Mercury Partnership launch Practical Guide on Reducing Mercury Use in Artisanal Gold Mining

Nairobi/Punta del Este, 2 July 2012 - Over 500 representatives, including delegates from 128 governments and representatives from intergovernmental organisations, NGOs and other stakeholders, are currently convening in Punta del Este, Uruguay, for further negotiations towards a global treaty on mercury.

The fourth of five sessions of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC4) got off to a good start and negotiations are already beyond the halfway point. After INC4 there is only one remaining session before the diplomatic conference that will convene in Japan in 2013.

Delegates have been meeting in a busy schedule of contact groups in order to forge a way forward. Within the six days of the meeting, areas from products that contain mercury and processes that use mercury, to supply and trade of mercury, to emissions and releases, to storage and waste, to financial resources and technical assistance, and compliance will be covered.

Luis Almagro, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, encouraged delegates to be bold.

"It is in our hands to demonstrate that is possible to work effectively in these few days," he said. "There are only a few months left to conclude this new convention and establish a robust and dynamic regime to protect the environment and minimise the human health risks posed by mercury."

Moreover, he affirmed Uruguay's strong commitment to multilateralism and the protection of the environment, particularly in the field of chemicals and waste through the progressive development of international environmental law.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) echoed these sentiments stating that, "It is UNEP's conviction that the meeting in Uruguay will assist governments towards the goal of a global mercury convention by 2013.This can significantly reduce the exposure of significant numbers of people across the globe to a highly hazardous substance whose impacts on human health are well known - and in doing so make a serious contribution to sustainable development and a transition to an inclusive Green Economy in the wake of Rio+20".

Low-Mercury and Mercury-free Solutions to ASGM

UNEP launched its Practical Guide on methods and techniques to reduce mercury use and non-mercury alternative practices in Artisanal Small-Scale Gold Mining (ASGM) with a curtain raiser video during the opening of the INC4.

Developed in collaboration with the Artisanal Gold Council and other partners from the Global Mercury Partnership, the Practical Guide informs policy makers, miners and civil society about available techniques for reducing and ultimately eliminating, mercury use in ASGM.

Low-mercury and mercury-free solutions for ASGM as outlined in the Practical Guide can reduce health and environment risks while avoiding impact on many communities that depend on this for their livelihoods.

Cheap and effective practical measures exist that can be used by artisan gold miners to reduce and even to eliminate the need for mercury.

To eliminate the harmful effects of open burning of amalgam or processed amalgam, devices called "retorts" and fume hoods can be used to capture evaporating mercury for re-use. This reduces mercury emissions and also the overall usage of mercury.

In cooperatives in Colombia, miners use centrifuges and shaking tables to separate heavy gold particles from the slurry of ore thus eliminating the need to use mercury all together.

The often informal and sometimes illegal status of the sector in many countries has been one of the biggest challenges in addressing the health and environmental issues of the sector. The Practical Guide is also useful for governments in the explanation of the technical fundamentals that underpin and encourage the formalisation of ASGM.

Paths to Development

ASGM is a complex global development issue that presents challenges and opportunities in many countries. ASGM is the largest demand sector for mercury globally. ASGM is practiced in around 70 countries, including numerous countries in Latin America. Estimates put mercury emission to the environment from ASGM world wide at approximately 1400 tonnes/year in 2011.

Without improved methods, virtually all mercury used in ASGM is released into the environment, posing long-term risks for miners and communities involved in such mining, as well as those living downstream and downwind from mines. Women and children make up a significant portion of these miners, placing them at particular risk to the neurotoxic properties of mercury.

As the value of gold has soared given the recent financial turmoil, small-scale, artisanal gold mining is booming throughout the world. The Artisanal Gold Council estimates that between 12 and 15 million people in over 70 countries are employed in the sector, producing up to 20 per cent of the total gold supply.

Unlike many primary gold producers, artisan miners typically get a good share of the eventual market price. In this light, Mr. Steiner noted that "it is important to approach the three pillars of sustainable development in a holistic way. Reducing and eliminating mercury use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining is at the intersection of these three pillars. It is an important economic activity, which can contribute directly to poverty alleviation and regional well-being. The global mercury legal instrument under development gives an important opportunity to ensure that a small-scale activity, such as this one, continues in a safe and sustainable way."

Kevin Telmer, Executive Director of The Artisanal Gold Council, explained, "When you buy gold from a small-scale gold miner, you are paying 70-80 per cent of the international price. That's almost never true for any other product. It directly transfers wealth very efficiently from rich to poor."

If the negotiators reach an agreement to reduce and ultimately eliminate the use of mercury in Artisanal Small-Scale Mining it will be a benefit for all countries in reducing risks to human health and the environment, while maintaining an important source of income for world communities.


Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, Office of the Executive Director
Tel: +254 20 762 3084
Mobile: 254 733 632 755 or when traveling +41 795 965 737

Brenda Koekkoek, Programme Officer, DTIE Chemicals Branch
Tel: +41 22 917 8867


Practical Guide

ASGM video

Further Resources
ASGM Video
The Practical Guide