Mining concerns run deep

UVic-based group targets mercury in small mines

Members of the Artisanal Gold Council’s downtown Victoria office

Members of the Artisanal Gold Council’s downtown Victoria office

The noise of excavation is overwhelming as giant machines dig deep across the street from the Artisanal Gold Council.

Such is life in the converted two-floor downtown Victoria loft, which will soon be dwarfed by the large building currently under construction.

The team of geochemists, geologists, geoscientists and toxicologists, and others that make up the Artisanal Gold Council is down to four at the moment, as some members are on vacation while others are in the field, which means an extended site visit to a small-scale gold mine in West Africa, Peru or Indonesia.

Open pit mining is one of the most common methods they see, especially in Senegal or Burkina Faso, two countries they’ve been invested in for years. Which is why it’s too obvious for them not to notice the excavation of a 10-storey Victoria development next door.

“All jokes aside, our mandate is to improve the lives of artisanal or small-scale gold miners and mining communities across the world,” says Paleah Black Moher, the team’s toxicologist.

Moher is also doing her postdoc through the University of Victoria, which is where the executive director Kevin Telmer, a geochemist, started the Artisanal Gold Council in 2008 as an associate professor with the School of Ocean Sciences. The project has grown to become a flourishing not-for-profit aiding the health and economy of mining communities around the world, in accordance with the 2013 UN-led Minimata Convention on Mercury.

The convention aims to phase out the use of mercury in the small-scale mining sector, particularly artisanal and small-scale gold mining, Moher said.

“Mercury is common with small-scale gold miners around the world. Rocks are ground down and mercury plays a key role in binding the gold together,” she added.

The problem is, not only is the mercury entering the miners’ bodies through their skin when they handle it, but family and community members often oversee the final process. The mercury is heated and the vapour released into the air.

The AGC has devised an approach that introduces more effective gold mining – doubling the yield – while also removing the mercury. They introduce technology such as a shaking sluice box,  which uses water to separate gold from the gravel, and even recaptures the water for reuse.

When the price of gold spiked in 2001, workers in gold-rich countries such as Burkina Faso and Senegal, two of the poorest in the world, flocked to small-scale gold mines. Many also work on farms during the rainy season, but the land is not ideal for growing, and the dry season is eight months of the year.

“Entire families and villages depend on gold as an income, so we’re not there to do anything but encourage it in a healthier and more sustainable way,” said technical director Ricardo Rossin.

Mike Williamson, AGC vice-president of operations, is one of the few non-scientists on the team. He’s now in his fourth month with AGC after 30 years in the Canadian Forces where he did similar work in project management.

“Gold supports 70 million people in the world and we estimate small-scale gold mining supports 15 to 20 million, where they earn 70 to 80 per cent of the gold’s spot price.”

To build awareness, AGC created, a world map indicating the highest concentration of mercury.

In addition to the technical intervention AGC agents do with small-scale mines, they also work to ‘legalize’ the mines, which are often informal and off the radar.

“In some instances the [small] mines are on the same property as a large-scale operation so we’ll liaise between the two,” Rossin said.

Two of the most important values AGC stand by are a refusal to work in a conflict zone or with child labour.


Just Posted

Chef Trevor Randle leads a June 21 online cooking featuring recipes – beef zesty lettuce wraps, blueberry strudel and blueberry spritzer. (Courtesy We Heart Local BC)
Free online cooking course explores B.C. blueberries and beef

Chef Trevor Randle calls them the province’s most flavourful foods

Willows Beach in Oak Bay. (Black Press Media file photo)
Seven days of sun set to shine on Greater Victoria

Special weather statement warns of higher than usual temperatures

Google Maps shows significant traffic backups after a crash reported shortly before noon on Father’s Day, June 20. (Google Maps)
Father’s Day crash in Saanich closes lane of McKenzie Avenue

Police say there were injuries, traffic impacted

Andrea Lewis (left), board member of the Shoreline Medical Society, receives a $3,000 cheque from Andrew Hansen, owner of Boondocks Bar and Grill. They are joined by Elizabeth Rhoades, executive director Shawna Walker, as well as board members Richard Flader and Andrew Tidman. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney bar owner helps doctor recruitment for Saanich Peninsula clinics

Boondocks Bar and Grill raised $3,000 in May for Shoreline Medical Society

Victoria Regional Transit System routes 7 UVic/Downtown, 21 Interurban/Downtown and 53 Colwood/Langford will undergo changes as of June 28. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria school routes scaled down for summer by BC Transit

Service changes take effect June 28, enhanced service returns this fall and winter

Jesse Roper tackles weeds in his garden to kick off the 2021 season of What’s In My Garden Man? (YouTube/Whats In My Garden)
VIDEO: Metchosin singer-songwriter Jesse Roper invites gardeners into his plot

What’s In My Garden, Man? kicks off with the poop on compost

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

A Lotto 6/49 ticket purchased in Parksville for the June 19, 2021 draw is a $3M winner. (Submitted photo)
Winning Lotto 6/49 ticket worth $3M purchased on Vancouver Island

Lottery prize winners have 52 weeks to claim jackpot

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

Most Read