In small towns in Colombia and Peru, where artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is a way of life, workers often use techniques that have been passed down through the generations. But these tried-and-true methods can also be deadly.
In ASGM, ore is often processed with mercury, a substance toxic to both humans and the environment. Past efforts to change this practice have largely failed, most likely because the potential solutions were created by outside engineers and environmentalists without input or insight from the communities that would be using them.
Civil engineering Associate Professor Kate Smits and doctoral students Michelle Schwartz and Jose Valesquez are part of a team of engineers and social scientists working with local researchers and educators to make the mining process safer and more environmentally friendly while allowing the communities to continue their ancestral way of life.
“These are not simply improved technologies and techniques, but new social organizations and networks of people that make ASGM cleaner, safer, and more sustainable,” Dr. Smits says.