As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, I’d like to focus on an issue of great concern to jewelers: The continued use of toxic mercury by small, mostly unregulated gold miners.  

Gold miningMost small miners are located in developing countries, and because of poverty and lack of jobs, they depend on gold mining to survive. Their need to eke out a living means they turn to mercury as an easy, efficient way to separate gold from its ore, even though it’s harmful to them and their families and communities.

All the big gold mining companies stopped using mercury a long time ago, because of the terrible danger of releasing this toxin into the atmosphere, where it settles in rivers, the ocean, and into marine life. But the small miners have been unable to figure out a portable system they can use in the field, in often very rough conditions, so their mercury use continues.

This problem horrified gold jewelry designer Toby Pomeroy, a pioneer in the responsible sourcing of gold. He decided to start a non-profit called Mercury-Free Mining, to raise money to brainstorm a solution, which Fortunoff Jewelry supports. The organization announced a $1 million prize to the first entrepreneur who develops an environmentally friendly, efficient, and affordable means of separating gold from ore. The solution needs to work in the small gold miners’ field settings.

Mercury free miningAnd the good news is – a potentially effective solution came Pomeroy’s way – even before he raised all the funds for the reward. The so-called Goldrop processor flows gas or liquid in a direction opposite to the direction of the gold ore, to achieve gold separation. It’s previously been tested by North American gold mining prospectors, who said the Goldrop method is significantly more efficient than traditional gold panning.

Earlier this year, before COVID-19 prevented travel, Pomeroy and some technical experts visited four gold mining sites in Ghana, West Africa, for a test of the Goldrop processor among small miners in the field. The tests were positive, and now technicians are working on refinements for the various kinds of alluvial ore found on African soil – which are different from the ore seen in North America. Everyone is optimistic that we may be in reach of a solution to this terrible problem.

To learn more, or donate to this worthy effort, visit