One of the toxins we focus on is mercury. According to the U.N. International Development Organization, small-scale gold mining releases over 1,000 tons of mercury worldwide each year--30 percent of total human mercury emissions. There may be as many as 15 million subsistence-level gold miners, working from Brazil to Namibia to Indonesia--nearly five million are women and over 600,000 are children. When they burn a mixture of mercury and mined gold silt in order to produce a larger and more easily extractable gold nugget, these miners immediately expose themselves and their families to mercury's powerful neurotoxic effects. They also create pollution plumes that taint both their local communities and the global food web.


amalgam of mercury and gold

Artisanal gold miners in Indonesia use toxic mercury to extract gold.

mercury retort

 A low-cost $4 retort is able to recapture about 95 percent of the mercury released.


Blacksmith works among these marginalized and desperate mining communities, understanding that they have to find some means to sustain themselves, while at the same time working to cut down on this massive mercury pollution that threatens people and other natural systems. We educate locals on the dangers of mercury exposure, and also make available the technology and skills necessary to use retorts. These simple machines, costing less than $4, capture and recycle the vapor from burning mercury and prevent environmental pollution. In 2009, the retorts we introduced in just one mining community in Indonesia prevented the release of over three metric tons of mercury.

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Watch "Mercury: The Burning Issue"