Blog Archive: 2007

Newe Sogobia -Western Shoshone Homelands

By Anna on December 26, 2007 at 5:33 pm

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The efforts of the Western Shoshone to protect their native lands –which, according to Earthworks/Oxfam, account for nearly 10% of the world’s gold production, or 64% of U.S. production –is another ongoing mining struggle here in the U.S. The Western Shoshone ancestral territory includes some 60 million acres in southern Idaho, eastern Nevada, and the Mojave Desert of California.

The conflict began when the Western Shoshone people signed the Ruby Valley (NV) Treaty of Peace and Friendship with the U.S. government in 1863, a time when the federal government was in need of California gold to fund the Civil War. The Ruby Valley Treaty gave the U.S. right-of-way through Shoshone territory for stage lines and railroads, and allowed settlers to mine, ranch, cut timber, and extract other natural resources from Shoshone lands. The treaty also recognized the Western Shoshone people as the landowner, and entitled them to royalties for extractive activities. No royalties have ever been paid to the Shoshone people.

The Shoshone have tried for decades to convince the federal government to honor the treaty and pay the royalties due to them. In 1979, the U.S. government attempted to legislate a settlement that would void the treaty and award the Shoshone a one-time $26 million payment –the equivalent of about 15 cents an acre –for relinquishing the title to their land. The Shoshone did not accept the settlement, however, the U.S. government accepted the payment on their behalf. Today, the payment sits untouched in a trust. (1)

The Ruby Valley Treaty allows for mining on the scale employed in 1863, but in the current mining realities prospectors have been supplanted by large-scale corporate mining. (2)

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination have urged the Canadian and U.S. governments to take action against these human rights violations against the Western Shoshone people. But the U.S. government continues to move forward with legislation for additional mining and new forms of extraction on these traditional lands. The Shoshone filed suit again in September 2003, demanding payment of the royalties owed under The Ruby Valley Treaty.

For more information, or to find out how you can help, visit:
www.wsdp.org

1) See http://www.nativeweb.org/pages/legal/shoshone/

2) See http://www.nodirtygold.org/western_shoshone_nation_usa.cfm

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The Ever-challenging Quest for Recycled Chain

By Page on December 10, 2007 at 7:35 pm

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As of late, we’ve been getting a lot of emails from jewelers asking what they can do to help support the development of a more responsible jewelry industry.

One of the biggest steps that you can take as a jeweler (other than being aware of the issues) simply involves talking to your suppliers about your concerns. Ask them where they get their metals & gems. Tell your suppliers that you are interested in buying recycled metals and responsibly sourced materials.

One initiative Anna & I are working on is organizing jewelers to convince refineries of the demand for recycled gold & silver chain. Because chain is manufactured in bulk, we will need many jewelers to join forces in order for the industry begin producing recycled chain. So if you would be interested in using recycled chain, email me your silver/ gold chain needs (style, size, metal, quantity) at page@rust-belt.org. Until then the quest for quality vintage chain continues.

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Proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay Alaska: Interview with filmmaker Travis Rummel from Felt Soul Media

By Page on November 23, 2007 at 7:39 pm

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Bristol Bay sockeye salmon…. Photo by Ben Knight

Northern Dynasty Mines proposes to build North America’s largest open-pit gold and copper mine at the headwaters of two of the most valued river drainages in Alaska, the Mulchatna/Nushagak River drainage and the Newhalen/Kvichak drainage. The proposed Pebble Mine is situated in Bristol Bay Alaska, an area known for its pristine watersheds and sockeye salmon runs. Filmmakers Travis Rummel & Ben Knight from Felt Soul Media spent the summer in Bristol Bay shooting their latest project Red Gold. Beyond documenting the incredible beauty of Bristol Bay, Red Gold poses the question:

which is a more valuable resource: the renewable and sustainable runs of salmon that have enriched fisherman (sport, commercial, and subsistence) or the 90 million ounces of gold that lie in the headwaters of the region.

Below is an interview with Travis about Red Gold and what you can do if you want to be more involved in the issues.

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The Veins of Bristol Bay…Photo by Ben Knight

Why did you choose to make a film about Pebble Mine?

I had never witnessed a mass migration before. This seemed like an amazing opportunity to document a mass migration that is still incredibly healthy and bountiful before the possibility of it being detrimentally impacted through industrialization.

Bristol Bay, AK is still extremely pristine, remaining roadless with more bears than people. The sockeye salmon returns are legendary even for Alaska and contribute to about 25% of the global harvest of wild salmon. This year about 29 million fish were harvested. The fishery is sustainable and is managed for 50% escapement rates to make sure there will be more fish for the future.

The Pebble Mine threatens this sustainable resource through a proposed copper/gold/molybdenum mine at the headwaters of the regions two most productive rivers – the Nushagak and the Kvichak rivers. It is also a mere 19 miles from Alaska’s largest lake – Lake Iliamna which is home to one of the only populations of fresh waters seals in the world. The reserve could be the largest copper sulfite deposit ever discovered and is currently estimated to be worth over 300 billion dollars.

The mine will most likely be a combination of open pit style mine and under ground mine. The development of the mine would mean a 100 mile road being built and influx of 2000 workers for construction to be followed by roughly1000 workers to operate the mine. The entire population of Bristol Bay is just 8000.

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Photo by Ben Knight

If Pebble Mine happens, what are the long-term effects to the environment & the fishing community?

Aside from the influx of workers from out of the area, open pit mining is notorious for contaminating watersheds. This is a wetlands with very complex hydrology. The mine site could not be in a worse location as it straddles two watersheds, each huge producers of all 5 species of pacific salmon. The fishery supports commercial, sport (fly fishing, spin fishing) and subsistence fishing (for the last 6000+ years). The commercial fishery is based on water purity and is marketed as coming from the pristine waters of Alaska. If there ever was a leak or spill at Pebble Mine, it could destroy the reputation of the entire state/region. For example, the Valdez oil spill drastically affected the Bristol Bay’s fishery’s market despite it being over 1000 mile from the actual fishery. The sport fishery is huge in the area and supports over a hundred lodges where people spend upwards of $8000 a week to fish for salmon and trout. The subsistence link is perhaps the most crucial as many yupik, and athabasacans (two of Alaska’s Native groups) still heavily rely on the harvesting of salmon for the majority of their annual protein as well as it remaining one of their last intact cultural pillars.

Is just the fishing industry lucrative enough to sustain the local economy?

Traditionally, the fishery has supported the people of Bristol Bay and the seasonal fishermen from beyond. In the 1990’s farmed salmon drove the price of wild salmon to extremely low prices. The market has slowly recovered as people have begun to recognize the inherent differences between wild and farmed fish. The disparity here is that the mine site is removed from the actual commercial fishery by about 60 miles. The argument is that the locals of Lake Iliamna have been forced out of the fishery through the permit process and do not directly benefit from the commercial fishery as they could from the mine. The only real argument for the mine going forward is job creation. This is a bit absurd as the jobs to locals will be minimal as many lack any formal training in mining/construction and with an immediate population of 200 people living in Iliamna the number that would actually benefit is very low. Most likely, Pebble Mine would not employ more than a couple of hundred locals during the construction phase and then that number would probably become lower once the mine is actually operational. Commercial fishing employs around 8,000 people seasonally with a majority being directly from the area.

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Nancy Delkiette hangs her fish. Photo by Lauren Oakes.

Can the mine be constructed in a way that will not be so destructive to the community & the environment?

Open pit mining is the largest polluter in the US according the EPA. Northern Dynasty is still coming up with the construction plans for the site, so it is not really known how the minerals will be extracted. Most likely it will be both an open pit and hard rock mine. The problem with the open pit and hard rock is containing the tailings and waste rock for perpetuity. Mining doesn’t have the best record for this.

Has there been any money set aside for clean-up plans?

Yes, they have to post a bond to maintain the permit that is reviewed every 5 years. Traditionally though this has not been sufficient for a complete closure and restoration. It is difficult to plan for perpetuity as well.

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Alaskan Natives show their support of the anti-Pebble Mine movement at the Dillingham rally. Photo by Ben Knight

When making the film what was the reaction from the community?

The Pebble Mine is a very decisive issue in the communities of Bristol Bay. Our experience was that the vast majority of those we encountered were actively opposed to the mine. The people in support were generally only in support of the mine going through if it could be guaranteed that there would not be any negative environmental impacts.

jackfishon-11.jpgPhoto by Travis Rummel

If people want to become involved in the issue-what can they do?
www.tu.org/bristolbay
www.renewableresourcescoalition.org

The scary thing is that is essentially a state of Alaska issue. The site is wholly on state land and then it will come down to the state legislation and governor deciding what is more important – the one time gain from the mine or the sustainable fishery.

To learn more about Red Gold & Felt Soul Media visit: www.feltsoulmedia.com

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Go-To Resources on Environmental Ethics

By Page on October 19, 2007 at 9:11 am

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We are super thankful to Erin Patinkin for organizing the below reading list of studies/essays addressing environmental ethics & mining issues. Erin did an awesome job of selecting work that isn’t at the top of your Google search. Thank you Erin! For additional resources & information, please visit our links page.

Armstrong, Susan, Richard G Botzler. Environmental Ethics: Divergence and Convergence. New York: McGraw Hill, 2004.
Summary
This anthology, edited by a professor of wild-life science and a professor of philosophy, offers the most current and comprehensive collection on the topic of environmental ethics available today. It surveys diverse approaches to environmental ethics by leading writers from a variety of disciplines, and provides an historical survey of thought on our responsibility to the environment. The perspectives are represented by their most articulate spokespersons and are accompanied by appraisals of their respective strengths and weaknesses. Chapter introductions, headnotes, discussion questions, and annotated bibliographies are provided. Twenty eight of the 64 articles are new. The new edition deletes those articles with which students had difficulty because they were hard to read and substitutes newer or better-written articles. All chapter introductions were revised to reflect changes in the field. New topics include biodiversity, ecological restoration, environmental justice, and genetic engineering. A new section in the appendix on conflict resolution was requested by students. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

“Artminers Win at World Bank’s Development Marketplace Oregon NGO offers alternative to mercury for gold mining.”
Artminers.org Institute for Sutainable Mining. Article on-line. Available at http://www.artminers.org/artminers/world.html

 

Crosby, Alfred W. Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900- 1900: Studies in Environment and
History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Summary
People of European descent form the bulk of the population in most of the temperate zones of the world–North America, Australia and New Zealand. The military successes of European imperialism are easy to explain because in many cases they were achieved by using firearms against spears. Alfred Crosby, however, explains that the Europeans’ displacement and replacement of the native peoples in the temperate zones was more a matter of biology than of military conquest. Now in a new edition with a new preface, Crosby revisits his classic work and again evaluates the ecological reasons for European expansion. Alfred W. Crosby is the author of the widely popular and ground-breaking books,The Measure of Reality (Cambridge, 1996), and America’s Forgotten Pandemic (Cambridge, 1990). His books have received the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize, the Medical Writers Association Prize and been named by the Los Angeles Times as among the best books of the year. He taught at the University of Texas, Austin for over 20 years.

 

Danowitz, Jane and Richard Wiles. “Mining Our Treasures An 1872 Law Paves the Way for a Rush of Claims in the West”
Washington Post. August 27, 2007. Newspaper on-line. Available at: http://www.ewg.org/node/22489
Abstract
Some 5 million Americans will visit the Grand Canyon this year, heeding the advice of Theodore Roosevelt to enjoy one of “the great sights, which every American, if he can travel at all, should see.” But while the canyon may be timeless, its surroundings are not. There’s a race afoot — within miles of the park’s majestic rim — to snatch up mining rights on public lands for extracting uranium, gold and other hard-rock metals. What’s worse, a 135-year-old federal law not only makes the practice legal but underwrites mining at taxpayer expense.

 

Kennedy, Danny. “Loosening the Golden Handcuffs: Why selling our gold reserves is fiscally sound and environmentally
correct.” Washington Monthly. July/August 2000. Journal on-line. Available at www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2000/0007.kennedy.html
Abstract
Picture yourself at the bottom of a pit the size of the Grand Canyon. Huge trucks rumble past taking 40-ton loads of rock to a mill. There, the rock is crushed into a fine powder, piled into a pyramid and sprayed with a cyanide solution–the same sort of poison that was used to kill people at San Quentin until the mid-1990s. The run-off is collected and strained for tiny flakes of gold–they are literally microscopic–and the mound of crushed earth is left there. A handful of men operate the machines, and the ore body of this mine will be depleted in a few years, forcing the company to move on to excavate another site. Welcome to the gold-mining industry–one of the most environmentally damaging and wasteful businesses in the world.

 

Klyza, Christopher. Who Controls Public Lands?: Mining, Forestry, and Grazing Policies, 1870-1990. The University of North
Carolina Press, 1996.
Summary
In this historical and comparative study, Christopher McGrory Klyza explores why land-management policies in mining, forestry, and grazing have followed different paths and explains why public-lands policy in general has remained virtually static over time. According to Klyza, understanding the different philosophies that gave rise to each policy regime is crucial to reforming public-lands policy in the future.

Klyza begins by delineating how prevailing policy philosophies over the course of the last century have shaped each of the three land-use patterns he discusses. In mining, the model was economic liberalism, which mandated privatization of public lands; in forestry, it was technocratic utilitarianism, which called for government ownership and management of land; and in grazing, it was interest-group liberalism, in which private interests determined government policy. Each of these philosophies held sway in the years during which policy for that particular resource was formed, says Klyza, and continues to animate it even today.

 

Kosich, Dorothy. “Tibet to require environmental protection deposits from mining companies.” Mineweb, July 25, 2007. Article on-
line. http://www.mineweb.net/mineweb/view/mineweb/en/page68?oid=24005&sn=Detail

Hilson Gavin. “Promoting sustainable development in Ghanaian small-scale gold mining operations.” Environmental Policy and
Management Group (EPMG), Imperial College Centre for Environmental Technology, Royal School of Mines, London, UK.
Available at: http://www.springerlink.com/content/e544d1vj1xnldhnx/
Summary
This paper provides an overview of the initiatives that have been undertaken by the Ghanaian government to promote more sustainable development in resident small-scale gold mining operations, and recommends a series of strategies for perpetuating a pattern of continued improvement. Since the passing of the lsquoSmall Scale Gold Mining Lawrsquo (PNDCL 218) in 1989, which effectively legalized small-scale gold mining as an industry in Ghana, the government, in particular, the Minerals Commission, has made a concerted effort to regularize operations, and to provide technical and financial support to miners. Under the auspices of the German non-profit Gesellschaft Technishe Zusannebarbeit (GTZ), a small-scale gold mining registration system has been implemented, district support centres for small miners have been constructed and the Precious Minerals Marketing Corporation (PMMC) has been created, which purchases products from small-scale miners at near-market prices. Careful analysis reveals, however, that these efforts have collectively only had a marginal impact, and that the industry is still in dire need of aid. Specifically, to perpetuate further a pattern of improved sustainability–improvements in both the socio-economic and environmental arenas–additional technical and financial support must be provided, and sound environmental management practices implemented. The Minerals Commission has been burdened with these tasks and challenges but because it is largely understaffed, it is highly unlikely that it will be able to facilitate sufficient improvement in the sector on its own. Nevertheless, marked improvements can be achieved if: (1) avenues for technological dissemination are created and improved; (2) research partnerships are forged with local universities; (3) experienced consultation is hired when needed; and (4) other governmental agencies, namely the Mines Department, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Geological Survey, provide the Minerals Commission assistance with prospecting, monitoring, regulation and environmental auditing activities.

 

Rajaram, Vasudevan, Subijoy Dutta, and Krishna Parameswaran. Sustainable Mining Practices. Abingdon: Taylor and Francis, 2005.
Summary
Describing the current status of mining practice in the Americas, Asia and Europe, Sustainable Mining Practices: A Global Perpective provides a definition of sustainable mining, and generally describes the international sustainable mining practices since 1992. It focuses on such issues as the large volume of waste generated during mining, mine closure planning, managing the environmental impacts of mining, land use planning, and energy use management. The exclusive specialty of this book is the detailed coverage of the sustainable mining systems and technologies that are currently used in developed countries. The book devotes special attention to mineland reclamation, with several examples of successful mineland reclamation and abandoned mineland reclamation in the US. It also addresses waste management issues, including tailings management, risk evaluation of facilities, waste rock disposal, acid mine drainage control, and hazardous waste management, with emphasis on maintenance wastes. The authors devote a chapter to Best Mining Practices for Sustainable Mining, with subchapters on small-scale mining, tailings pond management, and hazardous waste management. This chapter highlights practices that have been successful in the US, and practices that are being developed in India for controlling small-scale mining. The book concludes with a chapter presenting several case histories of sustainable mining practices in Asia, Africa, and the Americas-including sustainable exploration practices.

 

Whitmore, A. “The emperors new clothes: Sustainable mining?” Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 14, Issue 3-4, 2006. A
significant portion of this text can be retrieved at http://64.233.169.104/search?q=cache:0y5Sin1TDjgJ:www.rosiamontana.ro/img_upload/472936e3bca2bc61045730fbb1869240/Sustainable_Mining_3.pdf+Whitmore,+A.+%E2%80%9CThe+emperors+new+clothes:+Sustainable+mining%3F%E2%80%9D+Journal+of+Cleaner+Production&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=2&gl=us&client=firefox-a
And at
http://www.rosiamontana.ro/img_upload/472936e3bca2bc61045730fbb1869240/Sustainable_Mining_3.pdf
Abstract
Over the last few years, the idea of ‘sustainable mining’ has, thanks to industry sponsorship, been working its way into the agenda of many international processes. There is now a push in many countries to invite in multinational mining companies with the idea that there is a “new, sustainable mining” which is different from the old, bad practices of the past. Yet, what has actually changed in the industry to match this shift in rhetoric? From the perspective of mine-affected communities nothing seems to have changed. Their land is still being taken from them without giving their free, prior and informed consent, and they are suffering the same ill effects on their ways of life, health and environment. This paper will illustrate how under this rhetoric, the mining industry ‘emperor’ has the same old naked ambitions.

 

Movie
Lafaix, Phillipe. Law of the Jungle – French Guyana.
Available for free through Archive.org / open source
http://www.archive.org/details/Law_of_the_Jungle-French_Guyana-54m

Cool sites and references:
www.ewg.org
www.ewg.org/sites/mining_google/US/
http://www.ewg.org/featured/18
www.artminers.org
www.cleangold.com

How to Have a Jewelry Swap Back Party!

By Page on September 13, 2007 at 4:52 pm

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This past weekend Anna & I made a “How to Have a Jewelry Swap Back Party with Precious Metals” poster for the Philly Green Fest. So now you know what to do with all the weird jewelry your mom gives you.

Later this fall, Anna & I will be hosting a “Jewelry Donation Party” where we will be accepting precious metal jewelry donations to raise funds for the Association for Responsible Mining (ARM). ARM is an independent, global-scale effort and pioneer initiative created as an international and multi-institutional organization to bring credibility, transparency and legitimacy to the development of a framework for responsible artisanal and small-scale mining. For more information see www.communitymining.org. We will be selling back all the jewelry to a refinery and donating all proceeds to ARM. If you want to donate a piece or would like more information please contact page@rust-belt.org.

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FIT Re-Make Workshop

By Page on August 7, 2007 at 2:32 pm

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This year we did a re-make workshop with high school students at the Fashion Institute of Tech. The students brought in scrap/ found materials that they transformed into something wearable. Highlights include: the above collaged necklace, Estebanie Franco’s really awesome clock earrings (below) made from old clock parts and wire. Estebanie later made me the below really adorable denim backpack out of her baby cousin’s overalls. Honestly, I wear it all the time (it’s the perfect size) and always get a ton of compliments. So if you have any tiny overalls- you know what to do with them.

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estebanies-backpack.jpg

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Working the Egg: Oxidize Silver without the Chemicals (or the stench of liver of sulfur)

By Anna on July 11, 2007 at 9:54 am

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This is easy and about as safe as you can get. Hard-boil a few eggs. The number depends on how much silver you’re oxidizing, and how dark you want the silver to get. Place the hot & freshly boiled eggs in a container (this can be a plastic food container, a plastic zipper bag, anything that seals) with the silver you want to oxidize. If you’re using a plastic bag, seal it most of the way, but leave a crack for hot air to escape. Smash up the eggs, shell and all, making sure to get the yolk nice and mashed to release the sulfur. Then seal the container completely.
The amount of time you leave the silver in depends on the color you’re aiming for. If you play around with timing, pulling the silver after only a minute, or 10, or 30, you can get great variation in color from yellow to black. Make sure to turn the silver, or rearrange it in the container at least once during the process. Silver that’s touching other silver, pressed against the container, or coated in egg-white may not get evenly oxidized. Wash off the silver and eat or toss the egg. To remove the oxidation, pickle the silver in citric acid (see posting below), and scrub. Huge plus: your studio won’t smell like the sulfuric cloud that hangs over a paper mill!

Refinery Research

By Page on May 29, 2007 at 12:09 am

Refinery Research:

Over the past year and a half we have researched refineries that use only recycled metals & fair trade metals- determined to find a local refinery we feel supports our principals.

Most refineries will say that they use mostly recycled metals—this is true, particularly with precious metals. Precious metals are just too valuable not to recycle. However, roughly only 40% of the metal is reclaimed. Typically, reclaimed metals are mixed with new metals, which are purchased from large metal companies. It’s often unclear where these metals are coming from.

• Once metal is melted down together—it’s more or less impossible to trace its origins. This is why we think it’s really crucial to establish federal standards for recycled and fair trade metals. Too much responsibility is placed on the consumer, and it is nearly impossible to learn about the material’s history.

• Last summer we toured the Hoover & Strong Refinery in Richmond, VA. Hoover & Strong offers jewelers recycled metals in various forms & utilizes refining techniques that are more environmentally efficient. Their website is also a good source of information.

• Another refinery we think is doing good work is Precious Metals West, located in Los Angeles. While Precious Metals West is a smaller company than Hoover & Strong and doesn’t have the resources to be as progressive in terms of equipment and their manufacturing capabilities, they are very flexible and open with their information. Precious Metals West will allow you to source your own metals (either recycled or purchased from a responsible mine), which they will then refine for you.

• We are really trying to encourage both of these companies to begin manufacturing recycled chain. If you want to help out—contact page@rust-belt.org

Below is information taken from Hoover & Strong’s catalog about how to best sell back you scraps & the steps that are taken to refine your scraps into usable metal.

How to sell back your metal:

Six ways to separate your scrap:

1. Gold scrap-karat scrap, jewelry scrap, filings & benchsweepings
2. Silver scrap & filings
3. Platinum
4. Palladium
5. Gold filled scrap, watch brands & optical scrap (keep each item separated)
6. Floorsweeps, polishings, sink sludge , emery & filiters

How to Maximize Your Returns:

1. Anything used in precious metal manufacturing should be turned in for refining with sweeps in a container. This includes store buffs, brushes, emery paper, etc.
2. Include the weight of the scrap
3. Separate metals, not karats
4. Separating your scrap increases your bottom line by minimizing your refining charges.
5. Separate magnetic from non-magnetic material.
6. Track the scrap in your shop
7. Send your scrap to a reputable refiner

How to make sure your saving your metal scraps

Sink Trap
A sink trap can be purchased or made for very little cost. Purchase a 5-gallon or larger container that will fit under your sink.

Separate Metal
Separate the metals in the shop, silver from gold.

Floor Mats
Capture scrap in your floor mats—Use heavy-duty rough pile floor mats. Keep a small separate vacuum to collect only gold scrap, filings and floor sweeps in the shop.

Wastebaskets
Have two separate wastebaskets one for regular trash, one for trash that has small amounts of precious metals.

What happens to your scraps when you sell them to a refinery?

First–Smelting

Clean scraps are mixed with a special flux and then melted. The flux makes the metal more fluid and homogenous. The melt is then poured into a mold, the metal settles to the bottom and the slag created by the flux remains on top taking some of the non-metallic impurities with it. After smelting, the bars are returned to the vault to be weighed and sampled. The bullion remains in the vault until you have been paid for your scrap.

Then–Assaying

After your bullion has been weighed, drill samples are taken from each end of the bullion. This sample is fire assayed in duplicate to determine the precious metal content of the refining shipment. The assay lab does a miniature refining process on multiple samples to determine the precious metal content. The bullion karat is actually determined by the percentage of fine gold remaining following the assay process. The results of the assays must agree. If they do not, the bar is remelted to ensure that it is homogenous and resampled and reassayed.

And then there are Sweeps

Sweeps require more involved processing than clean scrap. It would be impractical to melt down a sweep because of its large volume and low grade gold content. The sweep is first burned at a low heat to incinerate the combustible material. It is then milled into a fine powder and sifted. By producing a fine blended powder, the sweep is made homogenous. A representative sample is taken and assayed to determine the fine gold content.

Refining to fine gold

The metal is now ready to be refined into its precious metal component. Hoover and Strong has invested in a new refining process known as the “Miller” process. Bullions from smelting are melted into a furnace. Chlorine gas is then bubbled through the liquid metal, turning silver and base metals into solid chlorides. These float on top of the melt and are skimmed from the surface to undergo a secondary refine to reclaim any silver. Once the process is complete the remaining liquid metal is at leas 98% pure gold. This is cast into anodes and electrolytically refined by submerging into a gold-based solution. During this process, fine or 24kt gold is plated onto the cathode. Both platinum and palladium remain in the electrolyte solution where they are later recovered.

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Practices

Citric Acid Pickle

By Anna on May 24, 2007 at 10:32 am

Citric Acid Pickle

We’ve used a citric acid pickle for about 9 months now with great results. Citric acid is a fairly common preservative used for canning foods (i.e. it’s edible). Citric acid is non-toxic, in fact it’s derived from citrus fruits, and it’s relatively cheap and easy to find. It works fine as an alternative to Sparex or other chemicals to remove flux (halide salts used to ease the flow of solder), oxides and firescale after soldering.

Citric acid is much less caustic and tends to last longer than other pickling agents. It can cause eye, skin, and respiratory irritation -so be careful, but we’ve never gotten any burns. The biggest drawbacks are that citric acid has to be heated (as opposed to Sparex, which just works better hot), and it takes at least twice the time to work. There is some debate over the ideal water/citric acid ratio, but we use about 10:1 water to citric acid with good results. Some jewelers say that distilled water works infinitely better than tap, but we haven’t had any issues. It may depend on the mineral make-up of your tap water. You can buy citric acid (the technical name is ‘anhydrous fine granular citric acid’) at wholesale prices from spice & herb or chemical companies, and sometimes at the grocery store with canning supplies.

To dispose of citric acid pickle: neutralize it first with baking soda, and check with local waste management authorities for regulations (down the drain? cat litter?).

This site has art materials disposal info:
http://www.ci.tucson.az.us/arthazards/dispose.html

Citric Acid material safety data sheet:
http://www.jtbaker.com/msds/englishhtml/C4735.htm

More comprehensive Citric Acid Pickle article:
http://www.touchmetal.com/workshop/citricacidpickle.html

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Practices

Plating

By Anna on May 19, 2007 at 2:10 pm

Plating:

We first considered plating so that we could use
vintage, non-precious metal for some elements of our
first collection. We could enhance the elements by
plating them in precious metals, but still use a great
deal less gold. But plating is a dirty process… Is
it better to use that much less virgin material when
we are incorporating a process that involves caustic
chemicals?

In electroplating an electric current is passed through a solution that contains dissolved metal ions and the metal object that will be plated. The metal object serves as the cathode in an electrochemical cell, attracting ions from the solution. Generally, metal objects are dipped into a series of baths that contain various reagents to achieve the desired surface characteristics. A plating sequence usually involves several steps of cleaning, rinsing, stripping, and plating. In electroless and immersion plating the process is similar, but the metal coating is deposited onto an object using a chemical, rather than an electrical, reaction (EPA 1995).

The most harmful by-products of plating are sludge and wastewater containing the chemicals used to ‘clean’ the metal to be plated. The aqueous solution used for plating baths becomes waste water containing cyanide and metal wastes. Fortunately, working with valuable materials encourages precious metal platers to recapture any metal that might escape.

As jewelers trying to learn the source the metal we use, we run into a familiar problem in plating. Companies do not to trace each source of metal. It all goes into a big batch
together. Again, the vast majority of precious metal
is recycled because it is far too valuable to waste.
The larger plating companies we spoke with told us
that about 90% of all gold on the market is recycled.
But again, they don’t track the source of the metal
they use, they buy it from chemical companies like Technic or Advance Chemical who buy it from …who knows.
Small-scale platers have an easier time handling their
waste water. They may have permits like a small
science lab, and pay for their municipality to handle
the water treatment for them.

In our research of plating companies, we talked to a
lot of environmental organizations to get a clearer
picture of precious metals plating and it’s negative
environmental impact. Compared to other types of plating, precious metals plating gets a pretty good rep with the waste
prevention agencies, largely because they keep close
tabs on such valuable materials.

No one we spoke with had any recommendations of plating companies with a better than average track record.
NEWMOA (NorthEast Waste Management Officials Association, www.newmoa.org) was the most helpful. They suggested the
following questions to ask a plating company:
-Has the company implemented any pollution prevention steps?
-Is the company doing anything to learn about pollution prevention steps they might take (e.g. an environmental audit)?
-Can the company cut back on water use?
-Does the company employ counter-current rinsing (this is a technique that requires less water)?
-Has the company explored any alternatives to chlorinated solvent cleaning?

Other Plating Resources on the internet:
– The EPA enforcement tracking site, where you can find the enforcement history of a company & check if they have ever been non-compliant or penalized.
www.epa-echo.gov

– The Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange has a Metal Finishing Topic Hub with lots of information, and a reference section with over 100 articles on metal finishing.
http://www.p2rx.org

– The National Metal Finishing Resource Center is a national compliance assistance center partly funded by EPA to help metal finishers improve their compliance with environmental regulations.
http://www.nmfrc.org/

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