Tag Archives: small-scale mining

Mercury kit study work for small-scale miners

alluvial miners at work

Alluvial miners at work on Bougainville

ONE PNG  | 15 January 2018

A recent mercury research study conducted at the small scale mining branch in Wau, Morobe Province is a collaborative work between the mining engineering department of Papua New Guinea’s University of Technology, the Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) through its small scale mining branch and the University of Kyoto-Japan through the leadership of Professor Takaiku Yamamoto, has released its findings.

The use of mercury has become very popular among artisanal and small scale miners because amalgamation is known to efficiently extract fine particles of gold from concentrates obtained by panning and sluicing operations. Gold alloys with mercury to form an amalgam from which the gold can subsequently be separated by evaporating the mercury.

The simplicity of the technique, low investment costs and its comparatively high gold recovery rate has made the mercury amalgam method an integral part of the artisanal and small scale gold mining operations.

In Papua New Guinea, most of the gold deposits worked by the artisanal and small scale gold miners are alluvial deposits in which the gold particles are liberated from gangue particles. It is customary to use riffled sluice-boxes to recover the liberated gold particles.

However, some of the gold particles, particularly the fine gold, does not settle in the riffle compartments but flows over to be discarded as tailings. In the hope of trapping these fine gold particles the artisanal miners frequently place some mercury in between the riffle compartments.

Then in recent years some semi-mechanised and mechanised alluvial mining operations used grinding mills or amalgam barrels for amalgamation of concentrates derived from their recovery systems before putting it through the knelson concentrators or shaking tables for cleaning.

Due to shear force between centrifugal force and drag force in knelson concentrators or the stratification action of the shaking tables, mercury is easily dislodged from the gold and is lost to the tailings. This is because the bonding mechanism holding gold and mercury together is weak and doesn’t require much force to sever the gold particles from the mercury, and because of size and density differences, mercury ends up in the tailings and eventually in the river systems.

However, by far the most dangerous practice adopted by the miners is the gold recovery process from the gold mercury amalgams. Gold is recovered by evaporating the mercury from the amalgam over an open fire

This process is commonly known as “cooking.” The mercury vapour, which includes fine globules, is partly inhaled while the remainder is released into the atmosphere, which returns as part of the “mercury cycle.”

Methods introduced to avoid the practice of releasing mercury into the atmosphere and which can reduce the mercury loss to less than 0.1 per cent are available but have not been so popular amongst miners due to the discolouring effect on the gold after distillation in a retort.

This discolouration is caused by the presence of iron and arsenic compounds and results in a lower price being offered by gold buyers for the product.

One such device is the “Mercury Retort” which evaporates the mercury in a closed cycle and recovers it by condensing the vapour with cooling water.

Mercury is toxic and an environmental pollutant which drew world attention in 1953 after it was reported that a large number of people living in the Minamata bay area in Japan developed symptoms of disease which affected their central nervous system after consuming fish.

The fish in the bay were contaminated with methyl-mercury as a result of mercury being released into the bay by the Chisso Corporation, a chemical company operating on the shores of the bay. The mercury poisoning was responsible for a variety of clinical symptoms which included speech impediments, failure of muscular coordination, and contraction of visual fields in the eye, disturbance in smooth eyeball movements, enteral hearing loss and unbalance of body. The disease is now commonly known as the “Minamata Disease.”

The recent study conducted at theMRA small scale mining branch in Wau was a collaborative work between the mining engineering department of Papua New Guinea’s University of Technology, the University of Kyoto-Japan and the small scale miners in Wau/Bulolo was to trial a an Amalgam retorting machine from Kyoto University-Japan.

The objective was to test run the Japanese mercury recovery kit, a prototype amalgam retorting machine for the recovery of mercury and critically assess the overall performance, its efficiency and ease of operation of the device.

The promotion and use of the retorts would be very beneficial in the long term as they are capable of reducing discharge of mercury vapour into the atmosphere and the environment. It can also recover bulk of the mercury for recycling which would be a potential economic gain for the small scale miners and the chances of them being poisoned can be minimized through the establishment of central facilities in alluvial mining active areas which will alleviate the more dangerous practice of ‘cooking” amalgams.

A batch of mercury gold amalgam samples were provided by the miners from around Wau/Bulolo mining areas for over a period of one week to conduct the research activity by retorting them in the furnace at four different temperatures (300-500 OC, 300-600 OC, 300-700 OC ,300-800 OC) and the mercury recovery results observed ,recorded and calculated.

From this activity, it is noted that mercury which was emitted during the process was mostly trapped in the condensers 1 and 2.

The carbon filter indicated zero mercury which concludes that the air released at the vacuum pump has zero mercury vapour.

From the results obtained, the research team concluded after careful assessment of the overall performance and efficiency of the mercury recovery kit that it is an appropriate technology and should be promoted and used in Papua New Guinea’s artisanal and small scale gold mining industry for mercury and recycling recovery.

MRA managing director, Philip Samar, who was instrumental in introducing the technology, said the purpose of this collaboration was to reduce and mitigate the increased use and disposal of mercury into the environment and increase alluvial gold production, resulting in the health of both the environment and people plus improving the wellbeing of ordinary PNG alluvial miners.

The MRA through its small scale mining branch in Wau would like to thank its research partners for the collaborative work undertaken.

This has set a milestone in being proactive in reducing and controlling mercury contamination to the environment and the users in the artisanal and small scale mining industry.

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Women as change makers in Papua New Guinea

Alluvial miner on the Watut river

Immaculate Javia* | Earthworks | December 11, 2017

Women around the world have been applauded for breakthroughs in male dominated fronts and for fighting for gender equity. Yet there are others who silently occupy male dominated settings, performing tasks executed by men while also fulfilling their own responsibilities as a woman, as a mother, and as a sister.

Immaculate with a group of miners

In the small-scale mining industry and beyond, women have not been adequately recognized, appreciated and supported for their contribution to economic development as their male counterparts, husbands, sons and brothers. For generations, they have been subjects of abuse, mistreatment, and unfairness, yet they have stood tall in order to make a change in their family circles.

I live in a community where much of the artisanal small-scale gold mining activity in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is concentrated. For the past 7 years, I have trained small scale miners around the country. As the only female professional in this industry, I feel I have a responsibility to represent women miners in PNG, to improve their mining activities and to help address the problems they face.

Women small-scale miners make up 40% of a population of one hundred thousand artisanal small-scale miners in PNG, and 15 million artisanal small-scale miners around the world. Women are a significant portion of the overall workforce and therefore deserve special attention from concerned governments. Even more importantly, female small-scale miners are essential to achieve a more environmentally responsible small-scale mining industry in PNG.

Although under recognized on the national and global fronts for their contributions, women have been important players in a male dominated, male oriented and in a highly controversial industry. These women, many of whom are illiterate, have a special and a very powerful, albeit tiny place of recognition and respect among their male folk.

While small-scale mining supports female miners and the livelihood of many rural communities, the consequences and destruction, often caused by men who have an upper hand, also greatly affect them. Women and children fall victims to:

  • Health and Safety Issues – They are exposed to dangerous and hazardous working environments and conditions such as landslides, floods, waterborne diseases, theft and harassments in work places. They are subjected to using contaminated water from large scale mine effluents, lubricants and mercury from small operations, silt and sediment filled rivers and destroyed water. Sources, which gives rise to water borne diseases like diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, skin diseases, and many others.
  • HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Illnesses – Many women fall victims of HIV/AIDS after their husbands contract it. Usually men go into town and cities looking for good markets and end up using money from the gold for illicit activities. Women are always at home fending for their children and often miss out on the benefits of their hard work.
  • Environmental Destruction – Many women walk distances to fetch water, collect firewood or make gardens because of environmental destruction. Many lose homes to landslide, floods, or conflicts over land. Clean water sources are impacted and access to services are denied because public infrastructure such as bridges and roads are destroyed. Women have less opportunity and influence when it comes to speaking out against the destruction of water sources or nearby forests.
  • Women have limited access to capacity building programs because of their illiteracy rates. There is no tailored training to suit many of these illiterate women miners.

Women endure a great deal of negativity in this sector yet they provide for their families and in the process and generate millions in revenue for the government. It is beyond human comprehension that any sane government would deliberately ignore a very significant and important player of economic development.

We believe that women can transform the artisanal small-scale mining industry into a more responsible and environmentally friendly industry. Through a legal framework to regulate the small-scale artisanal mining sector, women will harness their power and voice to advocate for environmental improvements and to encourage change amongst their male relatives. 

It is high time that governments develop specific legal frameworks to give space for women miners to voice the issues affecting them and to be compensated for their tireless contributions to revenue generation from mining activities, often earned at the expenses of their health and families. 

* Immaculate Javia, IREX Community Solutions Program Fellow from Papua New Guinea. Immaculate works to train and empower and women small scale miners in her home country. She has spent the last four months working with Earthworks in our Washington D.C. office. 

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Man builds gold-dredging machine from scrap metal

The National aka The Loggers Times | November 20, 2017

A man from Aseki in Morobe has built a simplified alluvial gold dredging machine using pieces of scrap metal.
The machine, powered by electricity and water, will greatly assist small-scale alluvial miners.
Sam Sky is a Grade 6 dropout from Asini in Salamaua and Bangulum in Bulolo. His alluvial gold-dredging machine was launched during the 103rd Yabem district conference in Aseki which was attended by 14 circuits in the presence of Morobe deputy governor Waka Daimon.
Daimon last Thursday delivered 44 bags of 10kg rice to support and feed the delegations.
Sky said that his first invention was a machine used to husk peanuts after a woman farmer in Markham requested him to build it.
Sky said that it took him two weeks to design and four months to collect materials and tools and another four months to build the peanut pulper.
Sky later designed and built the alluvial mining machine launched last week.

“My aim is to help small coffee farmers and alluvial miners who did not have easy access to services in Lae,” Sky said.

“I also designed and built another alluvial mining machine, soon to be completed that will be powered by water alone that doesn’t need electricity.”

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Lunch & Learn: Women Miners as Change Makers in Papua New Guinea

Earthworks

Join Earthworks and Community Solutions Program International Fellow, Immaculate Javia, for a Lunch and Learn talk on Wednesday, November 29th from 12 – 1pm.

Immaculate has more than 7 years of experience, training and working with women in the small-scale mining sector in Papa New Guinea.

She will talk about how empowering women through a policy framework can give a voice to women to advocate for change in the ASM industry in Papua New Guinea.

Lunch will be provided, from Taylor Gourmet

LOCATION: Earthworks, 1612 K St. NW, Suite 904, Washington, DC 20006, United States

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Reopening Panguna is dividing families and communities

Mine Pit looking greener – let it be green

Clive Porabou | Mekamui News | 28 August 2017

The Panguna mine issue is the hottest and very sensitive issue on the ground today. It is dividing communities and families up. BCL is so crazy to reopen it using every possible avenue it can to get people on their side. In the meantime ABG is desperate to have money to run the Government of the day in Bougainville and also pushing for the reopening.

The former BRA ranks and files are also divided, last week another MOU was not signed when the Bougainville Hardliners say no to reopening but yes to keep it closed.

Strong woman against mining says no to mining

Last week I was in Arawa and late Francis Ona’s brother came to me and told me that his sister Joanne whom I have been campaigning with against re-opening the mine is on the side of reopening the mine. He told me they must have given her money to change her mind. He says our family is now dividend. Later he and his elder sister came to me and gave me her mobile number.

Joanne on the left now becomes pro mining before when we campaign against mining

They told me to try and talk with her so that she can change her mind. I didn’t call her for a reason if they gave her money she might say to me we campaign with no money now I have money so if I join you on no mining will you give me money. Hope she will change her mind and save the last Guava Mountain to plant sweet taro for tamatama.

Some mothers who are against reopening the mine

A young woman, I interviewed her at the mine site, told me that they don’t want the mine reopen it will be so much pain and suffering more then the last time. I asked her the alluvial gold panning is also causing some kind of danger. She told me it is small and the people are getting more money from it then what the company can give them. She told the ABG Government can come in to help the gold diggers set up some kind of melt and essay laboratory so that the Gold diggers will not us dangerous chemicals etc etc

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Government looks to cash in on alluvial mining with Gold Bullion Bank

Alluvial mining policy to be developed

Cedric Patjole | PNG Loop | August 23, 2017

Mining Minister, Johnson Tuke, has directed the creation of an alluvial mining policy in the country.

He announced on Tuesday that the alluvial policy was one of the main policy initiatives for the industry as part of his first 100 days in office.

Tuke said there is a huge potential for the industry and proper frameworks must be established to manage it well.

“I have directed the Department of Mineral Policy and Geohazards Management (DMPGM) to work with the Mineral Resource Authority, to develop a policy for the alluvial mining sector in PNG.

“There is a huge potential in alluvial mining that directly serves our people. And that potential has been tapped into so that we can properly regulate it, introduce safe practices and maximise the benefits,” he said.

Tuke also said there is an intention to establish a gold bullion bank in PNG, which has always existed and is captured as a standup provision in the mining development contracts.

He added he is mindful that developers of mine in PNG have existing international arrangement that should not be compromised.

Bullion is a bulk quantity of precious metal such as gold, which is measured by weight and typically cast as bars and traded on the market.

Gold is bought and sold as coins and can be traded in the form of small grains.

“Under my leadership, I intend to strengthen and develop the alluvial and mining industry so that the vision to establish a gold bullion bank in PNG can be realised.

“This will be complemented by the development of the downstream processing policy that the Department of Mineral Policy and Geohazards Management is developing,” Tuke said.

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Alluvial Mining Employs 80,000 in PNG

alluvial miners at work

Alluvial miners at work on Bougainville

Alluvial Mining Activities In The Country Are Largely Unregulated, According To The PNG Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (PNGEITI) Report 2014.

Post Courier | August 2, 2017

Alluvial mining activities in the country are largely unregulated, according to the PNG Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (PNGEITI) Report 2014.
This leaves authorities and stakeholders with limited information about this segment of the mining industry. According to the report, alluvial mining accounted for 120,000 ounces of gold, representing around six percent of the total gold mined in PNG and K373.4 million in export revenue. Some 49,000 ounces of silver were also produced, to the value of K2.3 million.
“The Mining Act 1992 allows people to mine for alluvial minerals on their own land by non-mechanical means without the need for a mining licence,” the report said.
“Ninety percent of alluvial miners in PNG use rudimentary sluice boxes and gold panning dishes.”
This sector is therefore largely unregulated, and there is limited information about its size. The MRA estimates that there are up to 80,000 small-scale miners in this category.”
The report states that to date, over 4,000 of these have completed training at the Mineral Resource Authority’s small-scale mining centre in Wau, Morobe.
“Small-scale mining conducted with powered machinery requires an Alluvial Mining Lease or Mining Lease (for alluvial purposes) from the MRA. The former are granted for up to five hectares of land that is a riverbed and extends no further than 20 metres from any riverbed. The latter may cover up to 60km2. There is a requirement for a minimum 51 percent ownership by PNG nationals. In 2014, there were 183 current Alluvial Mining Leases and 136 Mining Leases (for alluvial purposes).
Alluvial miners sell their gold to traders, who then on-sell it to one of 16 licensed exporters, regulated by the Bank of PNG.
The MRA checks the export forms and raises levies on the export. The MRA felt that levels of illegal export were low, but other estimates have suggested this could be as high as to be an equivalent volume to the official quantity recorded,” the report said.
PNGEITI head of National Secretariat Lucas Alkan said alluvial mining and associated activities contributed to the economic wellbeing of a good number of people living in remote parts of the country. “This warrants putting in place strong coordination and regulatory mechanisms to keep track of opportunities and challenges that someone engaged in alluvial mining is faced with.”
“Taking an inclusive government approach in regulating different facets of the mining industry is important. In this way, we can give every participant a fair shake,” he said.

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