Gold is a dense element having a shiny, soft and malleable surface. Its chemical symbol is Au which comes from a Latin word Aurum. It has an atomic number of 79. Gold is among the non reactive metal, thus, it has a wide range of uses in industrial and natural environments. Gold has rust resistance i.e. does not react with oxygen. It is a good conductor of electricity being able to convey a very tiny electrical current in temperature ranging from -550 to +2000. Gold metal is among the most ductile metals, thus, it allows to be molded into very small threads or wires without breaking. Furthermore, gold is malleable. This makes it possible to be shaped into extraordinary thin sheets. Gold is known to be the least absorptive material, but most reflective of infrared energy. Gold with a high purity has the capability of reflecting 99 percent of infrared rays. Also, gold is a very good conductor of heat or thermal energy. This makes it to be used to transfer heat away from very delicate instruments, like electronics. Gold alloys, being the most tenacious and long performing material that is used to guard electronics against high temperatures produced by them.
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Gold, being a precious commodity, faces a wide range of exploitation issues. These issues are politically, economically, or socially related. The greatest concern facing gold industry at recent years is the rapid decrease in the labor personnel. This refers to the skilled workforce: process engineers, miners, geologists and geophysicists. Consequently, huge gaps between the young people and the older ones who have the skills have been created. The number of unskilled people that are being employed to work in the industry has fallen tremendously. For instance, in South Africa (which is among the leading producers of Gold), the number of unskilled personnel that are employed in the gold mining industry has fallen from 45, 000 to 130, 00. The rapid shrinkage in labor personnel is the result the HIV – AIDS pandemic, which is the common disease among the miners. Also, the ever growing level of literacy makes the perspective workers look for other alternative jobs, since mining job is considered to be for only illiterate people.
Gold mines are usually characterized by very deep level of hard mining rock. The intrinsic mechanical complexity and the difficulties of labor intensive mining, working away at persistently declining grades, puts a huge amount of pressure on various corporations in this industry to intensify competence in relation to productivity improvements. For instance, high tonnage mined per mine worker and increased production volume as well as managing costs.
Deep level mining is expensive to set up as an enterprise. Set up requires extremely large capital investment with specialized equipment. This type of enterprise is associated with long term investments. This has greatly affected entrepreneurs attempting to venture in gold mining business. As a result, there is limited supply of this commodity to the market due to low number of investors in the field.
Not only the production of gold is affected by human, financial, and geological challenges only, but also the legislation of the origin country. For instance, in South Africa, the gold mining industry is required to embrace a wide range of national legislation.
Copper, silver rhodium, palladium, platinum and nickel have almost similar properties with gold. This means that it is possible to use the elements instead of gold. Despite the similarity, the elements have differences in their occurrence, hence, the cost of extraction from the ground into useful form, i.e. mining. As compared to gold which is found very deep underground, copper occurrence is near the ground surface. This occurrence of copper makes the extraction of the copper ore easy, hence, reducing the cost of production of copper. This explains why copper is world widely used for different works instead of gold.
Nickel, another element with similar properties as gold, occurs naturally as sulphides, silicates, and oxides. The product is produced and used in the form of Ferro nickel, nickel oxides, and other chemicals. Nickel ores exist in many different forms, hence, in numerous ways of production. The existence of nickel in many different forms of ores and many different extraction methods makes the cost of production expensive. It happens because the method used to extract the substance from a certain ore needs to be customized. In other words, there is no standard method of producing the commodity. The expensive cost of production has provoked the preference of gold, which is cheaper as compared nickel production. As with the case of Nickel, the cost of producing silver is high due to its occurrence, as compared to gold. This is why gold is mostly used in everyday life.
As it has been connoted above, gold is extracted from natural mineral ores that are found only in a few parts of the world. These ores develop in situ, hence they cannot be replenished in a short time. The demand for gold is very high and this leads to the increased tonnage of production. As a result, the gold ores are getting depleted and this raises concerns over the rate at which these ores are getting used up. Consequently, there is a grooming awareness campaign about the sustainability usage of the mineral. Also, the high demand and depletion of gold mines has facilitated the intensive increase in the cost or acquiring both raw and processed gold.
Despite the fact that gold is a useful element in the world, its production, usage, and disposal has negative effects on the environment. Gold mining causes deforestation. Prior to a site being excavated or mined, the place has to be cleared completely to remove all obstacles including vegetation and man-made structures. This deforestation destroys the habitat of wild animals. In case of large scale deforestation, the extinction of the rare flora and fauna may happen. Also, deforestation causes global warming which, as a result, may cause heavy rainfalls that lead to floods, hence, exposing people to landslides and infrastructural damage.
Gold mining also results in water pollution. In the mining process, chemicals are used to mix the extractions. These chemicals include heavy metals such as cyanide and mercury. These chemicals are extremely harmful when accidentally or intentionally consumed. As they are used in the mines, they are washed into water bodies that are a habitat for aquatic life and also into supplies of water to residential areas. This contaminates water, killing the aquatic life and causing serious health problems to human beings.
In addition to deforestation and water pollution, gold mining also causes land and river dredging. During the mining process, large soils are displaced, they eventually become filled with contaminated water from mine tailings causing land dredging. The holes become breeding nests for diseases causing organisms like mosquitoes. This leads to diseases like malaria and dengue fever. River dredging is caused by the use of suction hoses that suck out minerals and in the process it sucks and throws soil and gravel. When these elements are disposed off improperly, it leads to water pollution.
Gold mining is associated with excavating of large boulders of rocks. The waste rocks originating from these processes bring up a serious problem both in tunnel mines and open bit mines. The rocks are piled high around the mine since it’s very expensive to move them far. Furthermore, the gold ore contains rocks rich in sulfur. This sulfur leads to acid rains. The acid rain has a number of effects on the environment. It causes leaching out of important minerals from the surface of the earth. Also, these acid rains cause corrosion of structures builds of iron and steel. When this acidified water finds its way to water bodies, it presents serious ecosystem problems.
Gold’s splendid characteristics of ductility, malleability, resistance to corrosion, reflectivity and good conductibility make it to be among the number one minerals that are used in the world. Despite these good characteristics of gold, the shortcoming in its production – increase in the cost of production – leads to use of alternative elements such as nickel, silver, and steel. Also, the mining of gold is associated with negative environmental effects.