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Invisible and ignored? Local perspectives on mercury in Congolese gold mining

Many scholars have documented mercury use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining as well as its harmful effects on the environment and human health. In spite of this, amalgamation with mercury is still widely used as a technique to separate gold from the ore concentrate, and (inter)national initiatives to reduce the use of mercury seem to have little effect at the local level. This article digs deeper into this puzzling fact, by presenting a case study on mercury use in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Using empirical data collected in the Kamituga gold mine, we show that the local population and miners are not sufficiently aware of mercury's potential risks because adverse effects are not immediately visible. The more dependent people are on mining activities, the less eager they are to give up short-term economic benefits (by reduction of mercury use) to gain long-term societal benefits (i.e. protection of their health and the environment). In addition, mercury use is governed by formal as well as informal norms and actors across different scales. Due to financial, material, technical and human constraints, there is a lack of awareness raising and ineffective law enforcement. These factors lead to mercury being used near and in residences as well as within catchments of important rivers. The overall consequence is that mercury remains a major yet invisible threat to human health and the environment in the DRC.


Additional Info

Author(s)
B Nkuba, L Bervoets, S Geenen
Publication Year
2019
Language
English
Publishing Institution Webpage
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0959652619301933
Data Source Classification
Academic Study
Research Type
Both
Research Methodology
Primary - OBSERVATION, Primary - SURVEY, Secondary - PREVIOUS RESEARCH, Secondary - OFFICIAL STATISTICS
Thematic Tags
Political, Formalization, Governance, Social, Community, Employment, Gender, Health and Safety, Human Rights, Labor and Working Conditions, Livelihoods, Technological, Processing, Environmental, Degradation, Mercury, Pollution, Waste Management, Water
Minerals
Gold
Region
Sub-Saharan Africa
Country
Democratic Republic of Congo
Last Updated
November 2, 2020