Production of Gold - Gold 101

South Africa is the biggest producer of gold in the world. Up until 2007, nearly 50 percent of the world’s gold was mined in South Africa. Other major producers of gold include Australia, China, Peru, Russia, and the United States. China recently overtook South Africa as the biggest producer of gold. The change was a result of the increasing challenge in extracting gold. Surprisingly, it is believed that the total amount of gold ever mined would only fill 60 tractor trailers.

Gold mining today creates a great deal of waste and environmental damage. Because the gold found in most ore is just in trace amounts, large quantities of ore has to be removed to find gold. The result is enormous open-pit surface mines or equally extensive underground mines. In addition, many hazardous chemicals are used to extract gold. Things such as cyanide, nitrogen, and sulfur oxides end up in the air and waterways around gold mines. Spills and leaks are major problems with gold mines. Recently in 2000, a Romanian mine had a cyanide spill that resulted in the pollution of the local water source. Two and a half million people were left without drinkable water because of this spill.

Environmental restrictions on gold production and mining in the United States have become stricter, but worldwide they vary greatly. Gold mining often happens in developing countries that are dependant upon the gold production for the country’s income. In these cases, environmental issues often fall by the wayside.

There have been some efforts to find better ways to extract gold. Researchers in Australia have found microorganisms that actually eat small amounts of gold in rocks. These microorganisms then deposit the gold into larger nuggets. The hope is the organisms may be able to pull gold from ore, eliminating the use of cyanide, which has previously been used. This new process would cause much less environmental damage.

There is also a great deal of gold to be found in the world’s oceans. However, the concentration of gold is low and no one has yet been able to find an economic way to remove it. It is estimated that the oceans contain eight times the amount of gold that has ever been mined,

Next: Gold Symbolism

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Back to the Gold 101

Gold was first discovered thousands of years ago in its natural state, in streams, which lead to mining all over the world. Its brilliance, natural beauty, great malleability and resistance to tarnish made it enjoyable to work with. Gold gave rise to the concept of money itself. Today gold is used for jewelry fabrication, industrial application, and medical uses, by governments and central banks and by private investors.

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