Artisanal mining refers to the small-scale extraction of minerals from within the earth's crust or on the surface of the earth (Spiegel et al., 2005). The small-scale mining can include individuals or enterprises that employ people for mineral extraction, but usually using hand tools. Gold is among the minerals that require artisanal mining for extraction in most countries, both developed and developing (Mawere, 2011). Therefore, most of the artisanal gold miners in the world, including Latin America, Asia, and Africa, employ archaic mining methods. The archaic techniques for artisanal gold miners include the placer mining methods such as panning, sluicing, rocker box, puddling, and dredging (Spiegel et al., 2005). These methods of artisanal gold mining are still useful in the Latin America, Asia, and Africa. This discussion will consider the archaic gold mining methods and their negative effects on artisanal miners, their families, and the surroundings, as well as cost effective methods to mitigate the negative effects.
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The archaic artisanal gold mining methods are still useful in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Some of the archaic artisanal gold extraction methods include panning, sluicing, rocker box, puddling, and dredging. Gold panning is an archaic method that gold miners use to separate gold from gravel and sand (Mawere, 2011). Miners submerge a pan in water and sort the gold from sand and gravel. Because the density of gold is higher than that of sand and gravel, gold settles quickly leaving back the other materials. This is the easiest and cheapest archaic artisanal technique for obtaining gold. Some artisanal miners make use of sluice boxes to extract gold that exist in place deposits (Mawere, 2011). The miners place the gold-bearing material at the top of the sluice boxes and allow gold to settle at the bottom. Dredging is another archaic gold mining method that small-scale miners use today. This gold mining method involves the use of suction dredges, consisting of sluice boxes. Some artisanal gold miners use rocker boxes to extract gold in the modern day. This technique is similar to the technique of using sluice boxes, but requires little water. Studies have shown that the archaic artisanal methods of gold mining pose devastating effects on the safety and health of the miners, their families, and local community and environment (Barbieri, Cournil, & Gardon, 2009).
Many artisanal gold mining methods involve the use of mercury, which is a heavy metal and poisonous in nature (Barbieri, Cournil, & Gardon, 2009). Mercury amalgamates gold, but its continual use is extremely devastating to the health of miners, their families, and society as a whole. It has been evident through research that the use of mercury in gold extraction leads to high levels of mercury in rivers, besides high concentration of sediments. The fauna and flora in the aquatic environment suffer from the presence of mercury in water bodies. Mercury gets into the organ system of human beings through air, food, and water (Barbieri, Cournil, & Gardon, 2009). Therefore, the exposure of mercury amongst artisanal miners and community members is extremely high and has undergone significant documentation. For instance, in Mozambique, gold panning has posed devastating effects on the aquatic environment and human beings, including the miners, their family members, and the community members due to the consumption of mercury (Mawere, 2011). Gold panning, sluicing, and dredging, lead to disease outbreak, especially the outbreak of waterborne diseases like cholera, because miners dirty water as they search for gold-bearing materials from the river banks. Extraction of gold by dredging leads to the release of arsenic, copper, lead, mercury, and zinc into water bodies. These are heavy metals, which are dangerous to human life and aquatic life. Sluicing and use of rocker boxes also involves mercury in the extraction of gold. The artisanal methods involve the use of water, thereby affecting both aquatic life and human beings because gold extraction leads to the release of impurities into water bodies (Dooyema et al., 2012). Therefore, artisanal gold miners need to apply the cost effective methods that will mitigate the negative effects, such as mercury poisoning and the outbreak of water borne diseases. Below is the image on the use of panning method, which dirties water.
Puddling is among the cost effective methods that can allow artisanal gold miners to mitigate the negative effects of other artisanal methods, which involve the use of mercury for amalgamation of gold (Lubick, 2010). This artisanal gold mining method is friendly to the environment and human health because it does not involve harmful chemicals, such as mercury and cyanide. Puddling refers to the removal of gold metal from clay by stirring the mixture of gold and clay in water (Spiegel et al., 2005). Because gold particles are heavier than is the case with clay particles, gold particles sink the bottom of the container. However, puddling yield little amount of gold at a time. The use of rocker box is another cost-effective artisanal gold mining method, which does not pose devastating health and environmental effects to living things (Spiegel et al., 2005). This method involves the use of little amount of water, thereby not polluting water bodies significantly. The use of rocker boxes does not require mercury for gold extraction.
In conclusion, a number of archaic artisanal gold mining methods are still in use in until the modern day. They include panning, sluicing, use of rocker boxes, puddling, and dredging. However, research has shown that some of the methods are potential threats to human health and aquatic life (Barbieri, Cournil, & Gardon, 2009). This is because they involve dangerous metals, such as mercury and cyanide, during the process of gold extraction. Extraction of gold by the use of panning, sluicing, and dredging dirties water bodies. Puddling and the use of rocker boxes are cost-effective artisanal methods that miners should use to avoid contamination of water bodies (Spiegel et al., 2005).