A team of researchers involved in Mercer University’s Mercer On Mission program focused on reducing mercury pollution and human exposure to mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) has been named a finalist for the Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge, a global competition that awards $750,000 in prize money.
The Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge, which received applications from 42 different countries, will announce prize winners during a virtual event in September.
Artisanal and small-scale mining is a critical source of livelihood for an estimated 40-plus million people worldwide. While this type of mining generates wealth in developing countries, its practices can cause habitat loss, species’ population decline, poor water quality, hydrological changes, and negative human health and livelihood impacts.
Dr. Adam Kiefer, Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry, has led Mercer On Mission initiatives in Mozambique, Ecuador, Peru and Guyana to develop and implement methods for reducing mercury pollution and poisoning among artisanal gold miners. His laboratory at Mercer is one of few in the world dedicated to developing solutions to this global health crisis. Teams of his students have developed analytical techniques using portable atomic absorption spectrometers and GPS units to map cities and identify the locations of excessive mercury pollution in the atmosphere.
In collaboration with Dr. Laura Lackey, dean of Mercer’s School of Engineering, Dr. Kiefer and students have developed programs to monitor mercury contamination as well as systems for capturing the mercury before it is released. Their team has developed and tested its Mercury Capture System (MCS) that removes mercury emitted in the air during the final stages of gold extraction and at the initial stages of gold refinement. This device is the basis for the Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge application.