Mill Leaching: a viable substitute for mercury amalgamation in the artisanal gold mining sector?

Artisanal small-scale gold miners (ASM) occasionally employ whole ore amalgamation by adding mercury into ball mills to recover gold. In this process, 25–30% of the mercury added is lost to the environment. It is also inefficient less than 30% of gold is recovered. Amalgamation, followed by cyanidation, has been observed at many artisanal mining sites. This combination poses additional environmental and health consequences. Tests with ore samples from Talawaan, North Sulawesi, Indonesia indicate the possibility of replacing mercury by cyanidation in the ball mill, reaching gold extraction of 93% in 6 h of leaching. The gold in the Indonesian ore sample is fine and less than 8% of gold recovery was obtained with gravity concentration of the ore ground 80% below 0.25 mm, which is a reasonably fine grain size for artisanal gold operations. Replacing mercury addition with cyanidation in ball mills was implemented in one artisanal gold mining operation in Portovelo, Ecuador, achieving 95% of gold extraction in 8 h of mill leaching. This technique demonstrated a drastic improvement in gold recovery. It was found to be a simple, inexpensive technique well accepted by local miners. The results from laboratory and field tests are promising; however a thorough investigation into the socio-economic and environmental aspects of this presented alternative must be conducted prior to introduction.

Additional Info

M Veiga, D Nunes, B Klein, J Shandro, C Velasquez, R Sousa
Publication Year
Publishing Institution Webpage
Data Source Classification
Academic Study
Research Type
Research Methodology
Primary - OBSERVATION, Primary - SURVEY
Thematic Tags
Environmental, Mercury
Last Updated
October 6, 2019