Mongolian Gold Miners Put Health Before Wealth


Model Processing Plant Allows Artisanal Miners to Turn Their Back on Highly Toxic Mercury

Behind the unassuming brick walls of a remote compound in Mongolia’s Mandal district lies what may be part of the solution to the pressing health challenge posed by the use of mercury in artisanal small-scale gold mining.

Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that is especially harmful to developing foetuses and young children. Once emitted, mercury can travel great distances through the atmosphere, causing global contamination of ecosystems, animals and the human food chain.  



Despite the dangers, miners continue to use mercury. This year’s UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Mercury Assessment found that small-scale gold mining accounts for 35 per cent of mercury emitted into the air and directly threatens the health of an estimated 15 million miners in 70 countries—mainly in Africa, Asia and South America.

However, some of the roughly 100,000 Mongolian small-scale gold miners now have an alternative. Inside the compound, which is surrounded by stark hills and grassy plains dotted with grazing horses and cattle, sits one of only a few mercury-free processing facilities in the country.