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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wedding Gold

Food for thought as you watch tomorrow's royal wedding:
The No Dirty Gold campaign has estimated that producing the gold used to make one wedding band generates on average 20 tons of waste. This estimate is for an 18-karat gold ring weighing one-third of an ounce. It is based on publicly available data obtained from sources such as the US Geological Survey and on data that mining companies report to their shareholders.

Gold-to-waste ratios can vary significantly depending on the type of mine (underground or open-pit) and type of ore deposit. The 20 tons statistic is a global average based on data from mines around the world.
Keith Slack, now of Oxfam America, elaborated on the risks in a 2008 interview with Spiegel:
Slack: Enormous quantities of poisonous chemicals are used, particularly cyanide, which separates the gold from the stone. It is estimated that gold mines worldwide use 182,000 tons of cyanide each year -- a gigantic amount.

SPIEGEL: Cyanide is highly toxic. What are the consequences for the environment?

Slack: It gets into rivers as well as groundwater and can kill fish. The water is no longer drinkable or usable for agricultural irrigation. Sometimes even minimal standards are lacking. In Indonesia, the toxic mining waste is simply dumped into the ocean...

SPIEGEL: How much waste is produced to extract enough gold for a wedding ring?

Slack: That produces 20 tons of waste.

SPIEGEL: Is this only loose rock that can be pushed somewhere, or is it poisonous waste?

Slack: The problem is that cyanide treated rock, when exposed to air, will give off sulphuric acids, like those contained in car batteries. This process continues forever and can permanently contaminate the groundwater. Even mines the Romans operated in what is today France still exude these substances.
Provides an entirely new meaning to this question, eh?

Apparently, the royal newlyweds are using a piece of gold mined in Wales, so these statistics don't necessarily apply to their jewelry.

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