Gold mining and refining uses toxic chemicals and has the potential to have very negative environmental consequences. The largest gold mining companies use cyanide in the refining process. However, a lot of gold, particularly in South America, mercury is used in the refining process. Mercury has bad negative environmental impacts. It also has severe and negative health effects for the miners that work with it. Centuries ago hatters (makers of hats) used mercury. One of the effects of mercury poisoning is spastic movements of limbs and insanity. The expression 'mad as a hatter' refers to the effects of mercury poisoning that hatters would develop. (“As Mad as a Hatter”, http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/mad-as-a-hatter.html.)
In South America many individuals mine gold. They work in gold mines that have been abandoned by major mining companies. They pan for gold in rivers and streams that no longer provide enough gold to be worthwhile for large, multinational mining conglomerates. They even search through tailings piles (waste) at operating and former gold mines. Known as 'wildcat miners' these miners are often poor and poorly educated. They use mercury for fast, small-scale refining. They often handle the mercury in unsafe ways and become ill. They also often use the mercury in environmentally unsafe ways and it is released into the environment where it has negative environmental effects. (Penhaul, 2010) 'Green gold' is a way to protect these miners and the environment that they work in from the negative effects of gold refining using mercury. In 'green gold' refining a “small, cylindrical machine blends mineralized dirt with jets of pressurized air, water and biodegradable chemicals in a centrifugal motion that produces a cocktail of thousands of bubbles that rise to the surface attached to specks of gold,” according to its discoverer, Peruvian engineer and inventor, Carlos Villachica. (Aqunio, 2010)
By Abdullah Alkhaldi
Aquino, Marc. (April 21, 2010) “Peruvian eyes "green gold" to end mercury dumping”. Reuters. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE63K50Z20100421.
“As Mad as a Hatter”. The Phrase Finder. http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/mad-as-a-hatter.html.
Penhaul, Karl. (September 7, 2010). “Life's a gamble for Chile's 'wildcat' gold miners”. CNN. http://articles.cnn.com/2010-09-07/world/chile.wildcat.miners_1_precious-minerals-gold-prices-northern-atacama-desert?_s=PM:WORLD.