Dear Virginia Regulatory Town Hall,
My name is Indira Fayson, and I am writing to inform others on the impacts of gold mining and how the process has impacted the public health, safety, and welfare of the Commonwealth. I also hope to spread light on how the EPA hopes to decrease the amount of waste and emissions that is produced each year from gold mining.
Gold mining is one of the most destructive industries in the world. It displaces communities, it can contaminate drinking water due to mercury and cyanide, and it endangers the people and ecosystems. According to “Earthworks,” producing enough gold for only one wedding ring results in over 20 tons of waste. When you think of how much waste we produce from one small ring, imagine how much waste gold mines are producing a year. Gold mining has also created toxic waste and has displaced our environment. There are different types of gold mining that are known for their “dirty” practices. These practices are called open-pit mining and cyanide heaping. Within these practices, when they produce waste, it produces a thick gray sludge that is full of toxic chemicals such as cyanide. When these run into our oceans, it destroys many oceans life, especially the coral. Many gold mines create dams to “prevent” the toxic chemicals from spreading, but these chemicals can still seep into the ground and into groundwater and cause spills. According to ‘Brilliant Earth,’ “the world’s estimated 3,500 dams are built to hold mine waste, one or two major spills occur per year.” A major spill can cause up to 25 million cubic meters of waste with high levels of cyanide. Finally, gold mining is dangerous for the workers. Today, there isn’t a newer and more modern way to effectively gold mine. A lot of these practices have been the same since 1947. From 1947 to now we have evolved more, and our environment has grown a lot more since then as well. With these old practices being used, it can cause injuries to these workers and the toxic chemicals and poor working conditions can also poison these workers as well.
While researching, I wanted to see if there are any ways that could help reduce the amount of toxic waste and emissions from gold mining. According to the EPA, on February 17, 2011, the EPA promulgated National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Pollutants for gold ore processing and production facilities. From this impact, the EPA estimates that over 1460 pounds of mercury emissions will be reduced per year. This would be a 77% reduction from the previous 2007 levels. While this is a great step into helping our environment, it’s still a very minuscule amount when looking at the grand scheme of things. With the existing air and water quality that we already have regulated and set in place; gold mining would still put these regulations at risk. There would have to be a better and safer way to continue gold mining to continue to protect air and water quality. I believe that we have long ways to go to make gold mining something that doesn’t impact our environment too negatively. Although we are making small steps, there is still going to need to be a lot stricter regulations to keep the people and their health and our environment safe.