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One Gold Band. Twenty TONS of Waste.

We do love our luxuries and conveniences. Gold, silver, diamonds, and precious jewels make us feel sophisticated, elegant, and important. But how many of us are aware of the impact our adornments have on our planet and the people who live in the areas in which they are mined?

Until recently, I had no idea. One of the blogs that I follow by Barbara Crane Navarro has opened my eyes, and now I realize how much my jewelry has hurt people and our planet.

Most everyone owns at least one piece of gold jewelry, and yet, gold mining is one of the most destructive industries in the world. The process displaces communities, contaminates land and waterways with mercury and cyanide, and causes injuries to workers. The national organization, Earthworks, states on their website that the production of one gold wedding band generates 20 tons of waste from digging and processing the ore.

All mining is damaging, but gold mining is particularly so because it uses a process called heap leaching which includes dripping a cyanide solution through huge piles of ore. This solution strips away the gold for collection and leaves behind 99.99% of what’s mined in piles that are nearly 300 feet high of toxic waste. Surrounding ground water also is contaminated with the cyanide and other dangerous chemicals.

Tailings dams are constructed to retain mine waste. However, according to the UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) there have been more than 221 major tailings dam failures. These failures displace people and contaminate the waters causing death to humanity and wildlife. And shamefully, out of the more than 2,000 major mining companies in the world, only one, BHP Billiton, is taking steps to avoid catastrophic destruction.

Metal mining is destroying beautiful habitats in countries such as Miramar, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic as well as our own United States. In fact, Metal mining was the number one toxic polluter in the U.S. in 2010 releasing arsenic, mercury, and lead.

You can find out more about the destruction caused by mining from Earthworks and Barbara Crane Navarro’s blogs.

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