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Photos: Child miners exposed to toxic chemicals in illegal gold mines

Small-scale gold mining in the Philippines uses mercury and cyanide to extract elemental gold from ore extracted from mines and pits dug by hand. Very young children, some as young as four, are put to work at less dangerous but still rigorous tasks in the gold mining areas. These include panning in streams or rivers and hauling ore sacks that can weigh up to 60 pounds.

Children often play near mechanized equipment and highly toxic mercury and cyanide. These chemicals, used to help extract elemental gold from ore, are leached into nearby watersheds where fish and other marine life, mainstays of the Philippine diet, are poisoned. The high price of gold and the poor economy in many developing countries has led to an increase in small-scale gold mining throughout the world.

A young miner tends a ball mill beneath a Diwalwal home. Mercury in the blue pan is used during the process. Image by Larry C. Price. Philippines, 2013.

A young miner tends a ball mill beneath a Diwalwal home. Mercury in the blue pan is used during the process. Image by Larry C. Price. Philippines, 2013.

Young boys process gold using plastic tubs and mercury along the banks of the Guinobatan River outside the town of Aroroy.  A liquid sludge, made by tumbling gold ore and water in mechanized tumblers, is mixed with mercury then  "panned." Mercury is often spilled into the river creating an environmental hazard.  Photo by Larry C. Price

Young boys process gold using plastic tubs and mercury along the banks of the Guinobatan River outside the town of Aroroy. A liquid sludge, made by tumbling gold ore and water in mechanized tumblers, is mixed with mercury then “panned.” Photo by Larry C. Price

Compressor miners working in the gold fields at Dalas Labo, a village in the provide of Camarines Norte on the island of Luzon. Photo by Larry C. Price

Compressor miners working in the gold fields at Dalas Labo, a village in the provide of Camarines Norte on the island of Luzon. Photo by Larry C. Price

Children pan a muddy slice that will eventually be mixed with toxic mercury or other chemicals to extract gold. Photo by Larry C. Price

Children pan a muddy slice that will eventually be mixed with toxic mercury or other chemicals to extract gold. Photo by Larry C. Price

Children sift through ore at an illegal gold mine in the Philippines. Photo by Larry C. Price

Children sift through ore at an illegal gold mine in the Philippines. Photo by Larry C. Price

Miners extract gold flakes with mercury and then burn away the liquid metal leaving only gold behind. Photos by Larry C. Price

Miners extract gold flakes with mercury and then burn away the liquid metal leaving only gold behind. Photos by Larry C. Price

Wearing no protection from noxious fumes, workers burning an amalgam of mercury and gold, the last—and most dangerous step—in the gold smelting process. Image by Larry C. Price

Wearing no protection from noxious fumes, workers burning an amalgam of mercury and gold, the last—and most dangerous step—in the gold smelting process. Image by Larry C. Price

A miner burns away borax, in a process that is less toxic than using mercury, to extract gold from ore. Photo by Larry C. Price

A miner uses charcoal to extract gold from ore. Photo by Larry C. Price

A miner holds a gold nugget, extracted from ore at an illegal gold mine in the Philippines. Photo by Larry C. Price.

A miner displays a nugget worth about $2100, extracted from ore at an illegal mine in the Philippines. Photo by Larry C. Price.


This story is published in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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