When I met with Toby Pomeroy at the AGTA Show in Tucson in February 2019, I didn’t expect to be moved to action. But what he said resonated deeply with me as I became aware of an immense global problem, and was encouraged by an even greater opportunity.
As the former President of the Gemological Institute of America for 20 years and an avid participant in the jewelry industry for more than four decades, I have been privileged to experience some of the most stunning examples of rarity and beauty that exist in the gemstone and jewelry world. I knew there were some troubling issues behind the manner in which gold and gemstones were mined and processed, but I wasn’t prepared for the impact Pomeroy shared with me about the use of mercury in artisanal gold mining and its effects on these miners and on the environment.
15 to 20 million artisanal and small-scale gold miners (ASGM) use toxic mercury (Hg) every day in their mining process in order to be marginally efficient, often barely able to eke out a meager living. Mercury is affordable, available, easy-to use, and there is no scalable alternative. Yet! These miners and their communities live in a vacuum of opportunity and support.
But in the process of mining with mercury, these miners enable more than four tons of this toxic metal to leak into the environment every day. This pollution directly impacts the hundred million people whose lives depend on ASGM, but, tragically, the pollutant never breaks down into a nontoxic state. Mercury is carried around the world on global winds and currents and it bio-magnifies up the food chain, as smaller life forms are consumed by their larger predators.
Pomeroy shared that while there is much being done to help ASGM end their reliance on mercury by organizations such as the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Development Programme, the OECD, and the Minamata Convention on mercury, none of these efforts are focused on discovering an innovative, technological approach that can be scalable to 20 million miners within a decade. We need a breakthrough.
Pomeroy told me that challenge prizes are increasingly being used to discover solutions to some of the world’s thorniest problems and invited me to join his team. Mercury Free Mining (MFM) will be announcing and conducting a challenge prize, raising the $1 million USD prize to stimulate the discovery of an innovative, technological breakthrough process that eliminates the need for mercury in gold mining.
Having lived my entire life inside the jewelry industry, I could see we have a looming issue on our hands with gold – the foundation upon which our industry is built – being linked to social, environmental, and humanitarian tragedies. And, like most all problems, this one also represents an opportunity for immense growth, contribution, and prosperity.
I joined a Board of Directors of MFM because I feel our industry needs to deal with this issue head-on before a “Blood Diamond-like” problem hits the news and creates a catastrophe for all tradespeople. The beauty of this effort is that we are behind a good cause, something we can stand up for, be passionate about, and find joy in the solution. I believe everyone would like to be part of something big that makes the world a better place. This is our cause and our calling. Please join us.