Program: Collaborative Research Program for Alumni (CRA)
Field: Geological and Geo-Resource Engineering
Principal Investigator: Dr. Sengpasith HOUNGALOUNE
Sending University: National University of Laos (NUOL)
Japanese Co-Investigator: Prof. Mayumi ITO
Japanese University: Hokkaido University
Artisanal and small-scale gold mining provides an important source of income for the miners in many developing countries across Africa, Asia and South America, particularly in rural communities and regions where economic alternatives are extremely limited. This type of mining varies but typically employs rudimentary technologies, and the majority of the miners depend on mercury to amalgamate gold. The amalgamation process is an easy, efficient and relatively cheap technique, but the main concern regarding the use of mercury amalgamation is the high toxicity and potential to pollute the environment. Mercury accumulates in vital organs, affecting the human nervous system and causing serious neurological diseases. Due to a lack of awareness, as well as lack of environmental, health, and safety regulations in these small mining industries, the gold miners themselves are the ones who are often exposed to dangerous levels of toxic materials. The mercury used in these mining activities can also be responsible for the contamination of water and soil, posing health risks for communities near and far, but also to the global population. About one-third of the global annual release of mercury into the environment is due to artisanal and small-scale gold mining. In Lao PDR, many people are involved in the artisanal and small-scale gold mining activities, particularly along the Mekong and Nam Ou river in the northern part of the country. Driven significantly by poverty, artisanal and small-scale mining is often undertaken by local workers with limited economic capacities and therefore they are using the cheap and simple methods with limited or no formal technical training on ways to mitigate the long-term impacts of their mining activities on the environment and on their health. The methods that they mainly use are the toxic amalgamation and/or cyanidation processes. Thus, if an economic sustainable and environmentally benign method could be introduced to the gold miners in Lao PDR as well as in the world today, it would help to prevent environmental degradation resulting from the artisanal and small-scale gold mining activities. This research has improved/strengthened the research collaboration between the staffs of member institution and Japanese host university. Our research team members as well as students could get a lot of new experience and knowledge from conducting this project. The detail information on the past and actively artisanal and smallscale gold
mining in Laos can be obtained (especially in the northern part of Laos where the activities for the artisanal and smallscale gold mining are commonly found). We expect to educate many of local gold miners for better understanding of the danger (selfawareness) in the use of mercury for gold extraction; and toxicfree techniques or the less harmful methods is expected to be found for the gold recovery that suitable for smallscale miners and in which mercury are not used.