October 24, 2005
NYT Begins Gold Mining Series
The New York Times began a series on the gold mining industry in its Oct. 24 edition, reporting that gold is being "wrung from the earth at enormous environmental cost, often in some of the poorest corners of the world." The article directly links mining issues to the jewelry trade, saying that the quest to mine gold is now being primarily fed by "the soaring demand for jewelry, which consumes 80% or more of the gold mined today."
The article notes the lack of clearly defined broadly accepted standards for environmentally and socially responsible mining, but fails to mentioned the announcement in July that the Council for Responsible Jewellery Practices had formed to tackle such jewelry industry supply chain issues. One of CRJP's goals is to develop a "Responsible Practices Framework" that would define ethical, social and environmental standards for the jewelry industry, from mine to retail. CRJP defined its scope to specifically include the international and small scale gold mining industry, according to its initial briefing pack, available at www.responsiblejewellery.com.
The NYT article goes on to detail how gold mining occurs and the processes it uses. "Consider a ring. For that one ounce of gold, miners dig up and haul away 30 tons of rock and sprinkle it with diluted cyanide, which separates the gold from the rock. Before they are through, miners at some of the largest mines move a half million tons of earth a day, pile it in mounds that can rival the Great Pyramids, and drizzle the ore with the poisonous solution for years," the article reports.
The article also recalls a disaster that occurred in Romania in 2000, when mine waste spilled into a tributary of the Danube River, killing more than a thousand tons of fish and issuing a plume of cyanide that reached 1,600 miles to the Black Sea. The spill led to calls for the gold industry to improve its handling of cyanide. After five years of discussion, the industry unveiled a new code this month. It sets standards for transporting and storing cyanide and calls on companies to submit to inspections by a new industry body.
NYT quotes environmental groups who accuse companies of mining in poor countries and dumping waste into rivers, bays and oceans. It also reports that people who live closest to the mines say they see too few of mining's benefits and bear too much of its burden despite efforts by the World Bank to encourage the development of new mines in poor areas in an attempt to create jobs.