Gold, mercury and the next Minamata
April-June 2014
By: Yuyun Ismawati

Some areas develop into semi-industrial mining zones with a pop-up gold rush town, and various profit-sharing schemes becoming more common. At this stage, social and environmental problems increase along with gold production and the number of miners. During this stage, between 5,000 and 40,000 migrant miners and workers will flock in to give it a try, sometimes bringing their families to live at the site. Entrepreneurs will move into the boomtown. The supply stage is really critical as it creates additional tensions and conflicts between all actors and irreversible impacts on public health and the environment. Mercury is used intensively during this stage.

At the declining stage, the production rate starts to fall due to numerous factors, including technical limitations, new government regulations, too many people working in one area, the arrival of new investors, and growing horizontal and vertical conflicts. The social problems and environmental destruction seem to slow but the impacts remain for a long time – in particular mercury pollution. At this stage, the number of miners and migrant workers will drop, leaving behind a ghost town and devastated environment. The time frame for every stage varies from one site to another, and the rate of gold production (in metric tons per year) also varies.

Mining and mercury

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