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The wildcat gold miners who get rich sick

Updated : 2019-07-24 14:04:18

A 2016 report by researchers for the International Institute for Environment and Development estimated a million people in Ghana make a living in what some call artisanal mining, and 4.5 million more depend on it. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to almost one crore such miners, according to a World Bank estimate: At least 6 crore more are reliant on the sector. As miners go for gold, they are poisoning rivers, farmland - and themselves. Miners inhale fumes from explosives used to loosen rocks, and dust coming off crushing machines, which contains heavy metals such as lead. This weakens the lungs.

They use mercury and nitric acid, which also cause breathing problems, to leach precious ore out of sediment. Then they toss the chemicals to the ground or into rivers.

A young informal gold miner glances out from inside a makeshift gold processing room at the site of Nsuaem-Top, Ghana. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
A young informal gold miner glances out from inside a makeshift gold processing room at the site of Nsuaem-Top, Ghana. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
An artisanal gold miner works at the unlicensed mining site of Nsuaem Top in Ghana. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
An artisanal gold miner works at the unlicensed mining site of Nsuaem Top in Ghana. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
An informal gold miner walks amid dust from rock-breaking machinery at the site of Nsuaem. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
An informal gold miner walks amid dust from rock-breaking machinery at the site of Nsuaem. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
An informal gold miner adds mercury to panned material to suck the gold out of the dirt at the site of Nsuaem-Top. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
An informal gold miner adds mercury to panned material to suck the gold out of the dirt at the site of Nsuaem-Top. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
A woman holding a basin stands at an informal settlement made of wood, corrugated iron and plastic sheets. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
A woman holding a basin stands at an informal settlement made of wood, corrugated iron and plastic sheets. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
An informal gold miner pours water over ground-up rock at an angle to wash the heavier gold elements to the bottom at the site of Nsuaem-Top. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
An informal gold miner pours water over ground-up rock at an angle to wash the heavier gold elements to the bottom at the site of Nsuaem-Top. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
An informal gold miner mixes mercury with water and dirt in a plastic tub to extract gold at a site in Bawdie. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko
An informal gold miner mixes mercury with water and dirt in a plastic tub to extract gold at a site in Bawdie. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko
Informal gold miners process gold at a site in Bawdie9. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko
Informal gold miners process gold at a site in Bawdie9. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko
A woman crosses a bridge over a river polluted by gold mining waste. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
A woman crosses a bridge over a river polluted by gold mining waste. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Chief Nana Boateng poses for a photograph in traditional attire at his house in Bawdie. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko
Chief Nana Boateng poses for a photograph in traditional attire at his house in Bawdie. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko
A roadside gold trading shack is pictured in Bawdie. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko
A roadside gold trading shack is pictured in Bawdie. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko
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