Field Testing a Mercury Capture System for Artisanal Gold Mining (2021-2022)

Mercury (Hg) is a pollutant that adversely affects human and environmental health around the world. The World Health Organization classifies it as one of the top ten most important chemicals of public health concern. 

Millions of artisanal and small-scale gold miners use mercury (Hg) to extract gold from ore, generating Hg emissions and waste that pollute air and water. Gold amalgamation produces about 40% of anthropogenic mercury emissions and is one of the largest threats to forests and biodiversity in the Amazon. Hg exposure can also cause serious health issues for miners and the members of affected communities.

Building on the work of an international team that received the top prize in the Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge for its Mercury Capture System (MCS), this project team evaluated the damaging effects of mercury-based artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Guyana with the aim of developing mitigation and remediation strategies. Team members tested water quality and implemented a new environmental sampling technology; evaluated the effect of Hg and lead (Pb) exposure on child cognitive development and adult cardiovascular disease risk; investigated the use of biomarkers to identify high Hg exposure; and analyzed market and policy solutions to mining pollution.


Summer 2021 – Summer 2022

Team Outputs

Risk of Lead Exposure from Wild Game Consumption from Cross-Sectional Studies in Madre de Dios, Peru. Axel J. Berkya, Emily Robie, Susy Navio Chipa, Ernesto J. Ortiz, Emma J. Palmer, Nelson A. Rivera, Ana Maria Morales Avalos, Joel N. Meyer, Heileen Hsu-Kim, William K. Pan. 2022. The Lancet Regional Health - Americas 12.

Impacts of Small-Scale Gold Mining in South America (2022 Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Virtual Showcase)

Evaluating and Mitigating the Damaging Effects of Mercury-based Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining in South America (poster by Axel Berky, Grant Breit, Adam Hahn, Helen Hsu-Kim, Fernanda Machicao, Reshma Nargund, Chelsea Nielsen, William Pan, Alexander Pfaff, Shannon Plunkett, Diana Quintero Giraldo, Danny Tobin and Zehua Wang, presented at Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 13, 2022)

Bridging Policy, Research and Implementation in Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining (research workshop)

This Team in the News

A Year of Creativity and Bold Thinking Through Bass Connections

Congratulations! ¡Felicidades! ¡Parabéns!

Six Ph.D. Graduates Who Leveraged Bass Connections for Their Doctoral Training

An Exciting Step Towards a Shared Research-Policy Agenda in “Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining”


Image: Gold mining along the Madre de Dios River in Peru, courtesy of Jackie Gerson

Gold mining along the Madre de Dios River in Peru.

Team Leaders

  • Heileen Hsu-Kim, Pratt School of Engineering-Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • William Pan, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • Alexander Pfaff, Sanford School of Public Policy

/graduate Team Members

  • Axel Berky, Environment-PHD
  • Diana Carolina Quintero, International Dev Policy
  • Daniel Tobin, Environment-MS
  • Shannon Plunkett, Environment-PHD
  • Chelsea Nielsen, Master of Environmental Management
  • Reshma Nargund, Environment-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Grant Breit, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)
  • Zehua Wang, Environmental Engineering(BSE)
  • Fernanda Machicao, Environmental Sciences (BS)
  • Abhinav Jain, Economics (BS)
  • Adam Hahn, Earth and Climate Sciences (BS)

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Uni-Andes, Colombia
  • Asociacion para la Conservacion de la Cuenca Amazonica
  • Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana (IIAP)
  • Peru Ministry of the Environment
  • Peru Ministry of Health
  • Mercury Capture System Science Team - Mercer University