Gold is incredibly utilitarian, used in everything from currency to the spacesuits worn by astronauts. Investments, offerings of undying love, and countless other status symbols are all made of gold.
It’s also a fantastic conductor of both heat and electricity, and is so malleable that you can turn it into thread. It is responsible for billions of dollars in economic value each year, and has been central to the monetary system for millennia. And unlike other materials, it doesn’t rust or corrode.
And while its value is undeniable, does our appreciation of gold outweigh the devastation left in its wake?
How is Gold Mined?
Gold is an effective form of currency due to its relative scarcity. There’s enough to circulate through an economic system, but still rare enough to be valuable.
The scarcity of gold stems from the difficulty of extraction. Not only is it difficult to mine, the process is also extremely destructive.
Hard rock mining is the most common form of mining gold. Gold deposits are blasted out of solid rock and separated using toxic chemicals, leaving behind desolated open pits of discarded rock. Some hard rock mines remove ore from deep shafts in the ground, where it is later separated using the same destructive processes.
Smaller scale forms of gold mining include panning for gold in stream and creek beds, and sluicing out the gold from deposits using a dredge box set up in the stream.
Who Benefits From Gold Mining?
With billions of dollars in economic value, you could assume that communities surrounding a gold mine would benefit from the gold mining industry, but that’s rarely the case.
While a mining town might see a small boom in economic activity, the community is eventually left with only an environmental disaster and a dead economy once the mine inevitably shuts down.
So, who benefits from gold mining? Gold investors, industries that use gold in their products, and the mining companies. Those left holding the tab are the miners, the community, and the local taxpayers.
The Negative Impacts of Mining Gold
Gold mining is particularly harmful to the workers, the environment, and the nearby communities.
While all mines incur negative downstream effects, gold mining’s use of toxic chemicals and their prevalence in underdeveloped and developing nations create a perfect storm of negative outcomes.
Health Impacts of Mining Gold
Mercury Exposure and Poisoning
Mercury is commonly used in the extraction of gold. Remarkably, even though the deadly side effects of mercury poisoning are well-known, the chemicals for gold extraction are often mixed by hand, and then worked into the material to remove the gold.
Gold mining has similar death rates to the rest of the mining industry, which is the highest in the world. Mining accounts for 1% of the world’s labor force, yet accounts for 5% of on-the-job fatalities around the globe.
Heavy Metal Poisoning
Mining gold results in the release of other incredibly toxic heavy metals such as cadmium, arsenic, and lead. Exposure to these elements, even with the best equipment, can be extremely dangerous.
And because a significant portion of the world’s gold comes from small artisanal gold mines, which do not comply with local health regulations, the risk of heavy metal poisoning is only increasing.
Environmental Impacts from Gold Mining
Deforestation is a natural by-product of gold mining. The Amazon rainforest is suffering at the hands of gold miners who strip down the trees to make room for gold operations. The total extent of the loss of wildlife and plant biodiversity is hard to calculate.
Heavy metals and sulfuric acid are known to leach into the water supply of many operating and abandoned gold mines. The process of removing ore to retrieve gold exposes other elements to oxygen, which then reacts and becomes a toxic soup, affecting all the water and wildlife in the area.
Amazingly, most countries do not have laws that require mining companies to rehabilitate the land or mitigate the environmental damage done by their operations. These costs are forwarded on to the taxpayers as governmental clean-up costs.
Gold mining is one of the most wasteful industries in existence. Millions of gallons of contaminated and toxic water and millions of tons of waste are dumped into oceans, rivers, and streams every year.
A single gold mine in Papua New Guinea dumps 5 million tons of toxic waste into the Pacific each year, ravaging the local plant and wildlife.
Tailing ponds are artificial lakes and holding areas for polluted and toxic wastewater of the gold mining industry. These ponds are toxic to animal life and have been known to fail.
There have been over 200 major tailing pond failures and each failure killed hundreds, displaced thousands, and contaminated the drinking water of millions.
Artisanal gold mining is the largest contributor of mercury pollution on the planet. 35% of all mercury pollution comes from these operations, and they are estimated to release 2 ounces of mercury into the environment for every ounce of gold retrieved.
Social Impacts of Gold Mining
Child Labor Abuses and Illegal Mine Operations
Many artisanal mine operations in developing countries are run illegally.
The workers in these mines, many of them children, are left with no protective equipment, no bartering potential for better pay, and most importantly, no legislative protection against inhumane and abusive employers.
Village and Community Displacement
Communities or villages built over gold deposits are regularly displaced without regard for the individuals that live there.
Indigenous peoples and villages rarely hold the legal deed to the land they live on, despite living there for generations. When mining companies lease the land, they are forced out and left to find a new place to live.
Solutions to the Negative Impacts of Gold Mining
Many would say that the gold industry is invaluable to the worlds economy. Others would argue that process of mining and extracting gold from the ground is unsustainable.
But what we could harness the economic benefits of gold without the destructive extraction process? Is there a way to way to leverage the assets in these mines without destroying the environment? Could gold be so versatile that it could continue to provide economic value while still being in the ground?
Element United believes it could.
Leave the gold in the ground.
Element United is paving the way to make this potential future a reality. Using gold, crypto, and blockchain technology, Element United wants to transform an otherwise destructive industry into something better.
Element United’s unique mine partnerships make it possible for mine operators to choose a more sustainable and environmentally conscious option for utilizing the assets in their mines.
Blockchain and node technology allows Element United and their gold mine partners to create new digital economies, with new products and services that reflect the value of the assets left in the ground.
These products include NFT collections and a browser game to earn Element rewards. The mine assets are therefore digitized instead of brought to the surface.
This is how gold, cryptocurrency, and blockchain technology can begin protecting the environment and local communities while still providing an economic incentive to mining companies.
The future needs clean and sustainable economies to drive growth. Element United is committed to that future and you can be too. Get started today!