In the heart of Pakistan’s mining landscapes, a pivotal shift is underway – a transition from traditional mining practices to modern techniques, especially in the realm of placer deposits. This transformation not only promises enhanced socioeconomic conditions for mining communities but also addresses critical environmental and health concerns. As we delve into the intricacies of this evolution, our exploration aims to shed light on the significance of adopting closed-circuit amalgamators in placer mining, their role in removing harmful elements like mercury, and the imperative need for sustainable practices.
Modern Mining Techniques: A Scientific Imperative
Extracting Gold Responsibly
The principal scientist of an Islamabad-based mining company, Muhammad Yaqub Shah, emphasizes the importance of scientific methods in revolutionizing placer mining. He advocates for the promotion of closed-circuit amalgamators as a solution for removing harmful elements, particularly mercury, from placer gold. Shah contends that employing closed-circuit operations can secure an impressive 70% of gold/silver after eliminating mercury, which can be reused without causing environmental or health hazards.
Artisanal Small-scale Mining (ASM)
In Pakistan, placer mining, often referred to as Artisanal Small-scale Mining (ASM), is prevalent in the headwaters of the mighty River Indus. This practice primarily involves the extraction of gold from alluvium. Yaqub Shah highlights the richness of alluvium in heavy metals associated with gold, including zinc, copper, cadmium, arsenic, lead, and mercury. Proper mining methods can lead to the extraction of these metals, preventing health risks and environmental pollution.
Environmental and Health Implications
Hazards of Traditional Methods
The extraction process involves the amalgamation of alluvium with mercury, followed by heating to recover gold or silver. Unfortunately, this process often occurs in the open air, releasing mercury into the air, water, and soil. Gold washers, unaware of the potential harm, inadvertently inhale toxic air during the amalgamation process, exposing them to health risks.
Urgent Need for Government Intervention
Yaqub Shah concludes the discussion with a call for government intervention to halt the use of mercury in placer deposits. While acknowledging the sector’s role in providing sustainable income, especially in northern Pakistan, he proposes that authorities equip miners with necessary training and safety kits to mitigate health complications.
Global Perspective on Mercury Pollution
A Global Challenge
The United Nations Environment Programme and UN Industrial Development Project report a global issue of mercury pollution from Artisanal Small-scale Mining (ASM). Between 10 and 19 million people in over 70 countries use mercury for gold mining. This emphasizes the urgency for countries like Pakistan to address the issue by developing the sector responsibly.
Recommendations for Sustainable Growth
Low-Cost Equipment and Responsible Practices
To foster the sustainable growth of placer mining, Pakistani authorities should provide low-cost equipment to extract precious minerals/metals from placer deposits. By doing so, they can enable the sector to thrive without compromising the health and environment of the communities involved.
As the mining sector in Pakistan undergoes a profound transformation, adopting modern techniques and embracing sustainability is not just a necessity but a responsibility. The transition to closed-circuit amalgamation, coupled with government support, can pave the way for a future where placer mining is both economically fruitful and environmentally benign. Together, we embark on a journey towards responsible resource extraction, ensuring a harmonious coexistence of prosperity and environmental preservation.