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Gold Ore Mining and the Environment

While gold can be found in its pure form, the majority is mined from ore, like calaverite or sylvanite. In the extraction phase, heap leaching is used, where heaps of gold are sprayed with diluted sodium cyanide, which dissolves the ore

Heap leaching is also used to extract other heavy metals, like copper and uranium. However, it’s highly energy intensive and has negative effects on the environment.

One environmental risk is the release of toxic fluids, which contaminate the surrounding ecosystem. In fact, the process of extracting gold is one of the most destructive industries in the world, with the potential to contaminate water sources with mercury and cyanide.

Mining heavy metals also erodes soil and destroys habitats. Pollution from gold mines is particularly rife due to the large amount of tailings produced from extraction, which are laden with heavy metals.

Still, gold mining supports economic development. To keep this industry alive while mitigating environmental hazards, companies are embracing remediation work, like water treatment and ecological restoration strategies.

Key fact: During 2013, gold mining companies contributed over US$171.6 billion to the global economy

Benefits

  • Supports economic growth

  • Creates employment for other industries

  • Can be made more sustainable

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