Vientiane Times, 26 Sept 2014
Unlicensed gold mining in Xieng Khuang province has come to a halt after the authorities set up measures to control this illegal activity. The controllers have done a good job in stopping the illicit gold digging in the area, Deputy Governor Mr Khamphien Sinounthong told local media in Vientiane during a meeting between the government cabinet, Vientiane mayor and provincial governors, which ran from Monday to Wednesday. Six years ago there were many groups of illegal miners working the streams, rivers, forests and mountain areas, digging up the ground and extracting the occasional nugget. It did great damage to the environment when these people poured in because the illegal work they were doing created heavily polluted water resources in the area and destroyed forests.
The provincial authorities stopped them and fined them when they found they were involved in the illegal activity but at least those prospectors that were caught mostly came from Xieng Khuang. An official of the provincial Mining and Energy Department Mr Vanxay Xayapandith told Vientiane Times on Thursday that many miners were seen in the forest areas of Hae and the Tarn mountains in Paek district and on Sunnoy mountain in Khoun district. Scores of illegal miners used the tactic of pretending to conduct a business delivering soil, sand and gravel to houses and other construction sites in order to deceive the authorities. “No large group of illegal gold diggers was found, only a few villagers from the surrounding area of these mountains,” Mr Vanxay added.
The gold miners were actually putting themselves at great risk of serious illness by the unsafe practices of amateur gold miners. The prospectors churn the soil in the rivers and streams, and use mercury, a highly toxic liquid metal, to separate the gold before it is smelted. The smoke that is released can have a devastating impact on nearby communities, as well as the miners themselves.
Mercury is not only poisonous to humans and animals, but is also very harmful to the environment. When mercury is heated, or even just exposed to air, it will slowly oxidise and emit a toxic gas into the atmosphere. If a person inhales that gas, it can cause serious damage to their nervous system. Six years ago amateur gold miners using hoes and shovels to dig for gold were common in all provinces of Laos, but Xieng Khuang, Vientiane and Luang Prabang provinces saw the highest concentration. The ‘get rich quick’ syndrome proved to be a major attraction for many people.