Local Innovator Designs Improved Retort for Kedougou Gold Miners
Local environmentalism drives safety innovations for Kedougou’s artisanal gold mining industry. Saliou Kanté, an environmentalist and small-business owner born and bred in Kedougou, has partnered with Peace Corps Volunteers to improve gold retorts used by artisanal gold miners in the region.
Four generations of Peace Corps Volunteers have worked with mining villages in Kedougou. Artisanal miners work under hazardous conditions, lowering themselves into unstable mines and risking life and limb to bring gold to market across bandit-littered roads and borders. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect is the amalgamation process. The liquid mercury used to extract and purify gold from ore releases toxic mercury vapors, which miners and their families inhale. It also contaminates the water and land.
Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Chris began working in gold mining villages in the region and later returned as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer. Other returned volunteers Martin , Patrick, Anne and Karen continued developing the project, getting local health workers involved in meetings and peer-to-peer trainings in a rural Kedougou village. They also helped introduce an improved retort or “cornue” manufactured by the Kedougou Lycée Technique, but the cost was prohibitive. Patrick along with volunteers Rene and Alex began the hunt for local materials to repurpose and local labor to recruit. That’s where Saliou comes in.
He proudly displays the retorts he developed, based on the lycée model, in front of his metalworking shop. Volunteers brought him to the village where they were developing their project to meet with health workers on the frontlines of mining reform. Their feedback was people without access to gas tanks needed charcoal powered retorts. So, he soldered a small charcoal grill used to prepare traditional pots of tea to the retort and wired a battery-powered fan to fuel the flames. The body is a small cooking bowl where the gold and liquid mercury are heated. Recycled refrigerator piping guides vaporized mercury from the bowl to a cup of water where it returns to its liquid state. While using mercury is considered unsafe this improved technology reduces mercury vapors.
The new prototype costs roughly $20 to produce. All the materials are available locally. Volunteers plan to bring the model to the health workers this month for review. They are planning more trainings and informational sessions to reach more miners and their families. Gold mining is a centuries-old practice in the region and with the help of local innovators like Saliou it will be a much safer one for generations to come.