U.S. Water News Online
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- The increased use of highly toxic
chemicals in gold mining could cause serious environmental damage and
health hazards in the Cambodian countryside, a report has warned.
The report, titled "Small-scale gold mining in Cambodia," was
jointly produced by the government's Ministry of Industry and Oxfam
Traditionally, only sluicing and panning were used in Cambodia to
process gold ore, the report said.
"However, as the gold mining sector has developed both in size and
technology, chemical extraction techniques that can recover lower
concentrations of gold have been increasingly adopted," it said.
Use of toxic mercury and cyanide are the two most common
techniques at many of the 19 known gold deposits in Cambodia, the
It warned that the chemicals "hold great potential to pollute
surface and groundwater resources" on which fish and villagers
The report cited a case of cyanide poisoning in a river in
northeastern Cambodia caused by mining operations early this year. It
said many fish and cattle died and some villagers fell sick after
drinking the tainted water.
The report said the problems are caused by a lack of government
enforcement and a failure by mining companies to abide by the terms
of their contracts to protect the environment.
There are 5,000 to 6,000 people working as gold miners during the
peak mining season, which runs from November to May. Most are
unskilled migrant workers who earn $1.50 to $2.50 per day.
The workers are also exposed to serious health risks because of a
lack of protective gear and poor training in storing, using and
disposing of mercury and cyanide, it said.
The report said gold mining has also led to deforestation and a
disappearance of wildlife.
"Once forests are felled, agricultural soils destroyed, wildlife
hunted, and water resources polluted, it is difficult and expensive
to remediate the damage," it said.
The report called on the government to demand that mining
companies adopt better operating standards and take more
responsibility for safety, health and environmental issues.
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