Black market mercury
The price of gold has tripled since 2001, fueling an increase in demand for mercury on the international black market. The demand comes primarily from small-scale mining sites in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where about 1,000 tons of it per year are being used, according to the Associated Press. Small-scale gold mining is the second biggest source of mercury pollution after burning fossil fuels.
Mercury can affect the nervous system and harm human and environmental health. For every gram of gold produced, says the AP, one to three grams of mercury is lost. Released into the atmosphere, it’s then deposited in oceans and rivers and enters the global food chain through fish. Mercury is also the easiest way to extract gold. Mining companies abandoned it for cyanide in the 20th century, according to AP, but markets both illegal and legal get it from leftover mining stockpiles or recycled light bulbs, batteries and industrial waste.