Popular images of gold miners panning for gold nuggets in mountain streams or pounding pick axes into deep veins of gold no longer portray the process of how gold is mined today. Most of the rich veins of gold in existence have been exhausted.
The rarity of gold requires gold to be extracted by creating large open pits through blasting proceeded by the excavation of large amounts of ore. The ore is pulverized into fine particles to loosen up any gold present from rocks. The fine particles are like a powder that must be combined with water and treated with a liquid solvent to dissolve the gold.
Cyanide, a highly poisonous chemical, is the only known chemical capable of dissolving gold through a process called gold “cyanidation.” Gold “cyanidation” rarely contaminates the surrounding environment through leaching, however the cyanide containing waste produced from gold extraction must be disposed of often exposing the environment to some traces of the chemical.
The greatest environmental concern in association with gold mining relates to the altering of the environmental landscape created by mines. The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 was passed to require mining sites to be restored to their original contours. The act also requires a mining operator to submit a restoration plan of the land and a plan for mitigating acid mine drainage before a permit to mine is granted.
One of the most profound aspects of gold is that it can be recycled. In recent years, with gold prices at an all-time high, people throughout the country have been hosting gold parties in an attempt to recycle old gold jewelry. At a gold party, old, broken, and rarely worn jewelry containing gold can be sold for cash and transformed into new pieces of jewelry. The recycling of gold is not limited to just jewelry. Many of your everyday electronic devices, such as computers and cell phones, contain small amounts of recyclable gold as well.