In any given year, workers in artisanal and small-scale gold mining shops in remote locales like Brazil and Peru release an estimated 700 tons of airborne mercury from their rooftops.
Collectively, these shops purify nearly 20 percent of the world’s gold supply before it is shaped and sold in stores. Through a generations-old process, small-scale miners use hand tools and chemicals to extract gold from the ground. Miners use mercury as an easy way to extract gold pieces during the sifting process, which separates out dirt and other materials. The resulting gold and mercury mixture is then brought to shops that separate this harmful chemical from the gold.