ASGM is an important way of life for millions of people around the world. Efforts to change this practice by using mercury-free alternatives to ore processing have not been widely adopted in part because they have not been designed with miners’ concerns and needs in mind. Our project will improve this effort by working together with miners and affected communities in Colombia and Peru. Our mission is to jointly design, implement, and evaluate ASGM technologies and practices. In this way, the people most directly impacted will have a voice in deciding which alternative methods for mining and mineral processing are most fitting.

Our team will use social science and engineering methods to address this international problem. By involving engineering students, we will also be helping to develop a global US engineering workforce. For the first time, US engineering faculty and students will work together with Colombian and Peruvian faculty, students, and mining communities to develop innovations that are socio-technical. In other words, we do not simply seek to improve technologies and techniques, but also support the development of social organizations and practices that lead to cleaner, safer, and more sustainable ASGM livelihoods.

Why is this project important?

ASGM systems are social, technical, and ecological at the same time. These systems involve miners and communities, geologic deposits, the environment, and technologies. If we are to support ASGM in becoming a sustainable venture, we must consider all of these areas by working together with miners and communities. We will break new scholarly ground by developing an integrated, community-centered approach that supports cleaner, safer, and more sustainable ASGM practices for people and the environment alike.

Our project will make at least four important contributions, which are to:

  1. identify the local knowledge that miners and affected communities have about mining and mineral processing, on their perceptions of environmental and human health and safety risks associated with these activities, and on techniques for reducing or eliminating these risks;
  2. advance engineering and social science research by understanding the importance of local knowledge in actively caring for the environment;
  3. widen the ASGM research in social science and engineering to include remediation; and
  4. test the principles for Engineering for Sustainable Community Development in the real world. Our project will also test how engineering students from two different types of educational models compare in how they: a) understand the social context of engineering, and b) work with non-US peers and communities. The two types of educational models that we will compare include training in humanitarian engineering and an expanded program in humanities and social sciences.
What other effects will this project have?

This project is important in other ways:

  • The problem of reducing mercury use in ASGM is considered a priority critical challenge, according to the 2008 United Nations Environment Program and is enforced through the Minamata Convention which went into effect in 2017.
  • Our focus with US, Colombian, and Peruvian faculty and students will help foster a more globally prepared engineering workforce.
  • Many of our students are from underrepresented groups in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – STEM, and they will have unique opportunities to do research with peers and communities from different cultural backgrounds.
  • The core Colorado School of Mines team includes mostly women and a Latino, which promotes diversity in STEM and provides positive role models for students, by showing that a diverse team can tackle one of the most important environmental problems of our time.
  • Through the project’s affiliation with the Alliance for Responsible Mining, the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force, and the networks of its Advisory Board, the project seeks to expand its impact into other countries and beyond gold mining into other minerals and gemstones.