The Blood Wedding Ring, Assessing the Life Cycle Lives Lost in Gold Jewelry Production

Examensarbete för masterexamen
Master Thesis
Industrial ecology (MPTSE), MSc
Parsmo, Rasmus
This study investigates the human health impact of gold jewelry during its entire life cycle. Gold has many negative impacts on human health during its life cycle, such as emissions and accidents during different stages in the life cycle. There are also indications that mining of different minerals leads to conflicts and that minerals, such as gold, are used for financing military activities resulting in people getting killed, injured or displaced. Especially the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is associated with conflict gold. Consequently, gold produced in the DRC is the main focus of this study, while gold produced in Sweden and South Africa are included for comparison.The main method of this thesis is an attributional life cycle assessment (LCA) with an expanded social perspective. The disability-adjusted life years (DALY) is the indicator, and the results are quantified for the amount of gold in one typical wedding ring and per kg of gold. The indicator DALY is chosen since it allows for considering different types of causes of death and impairment, including conflicts, occupational hazards and environmental hazards. The aim is not to reach an exact figure of how many years of life that are lost, but rather to evaluate the magnitude of different processes. The three types of human health impacts that are quantified in this study are: impacts from environmental emissions, impacts from work environment accidents, and impacts from conflict. About 0.4 years of life were lost per wedding ring for gold produced in the DRC, which is several orders of magnitude larger than the impact of gold produced in South Africa and Sweden. The calculated number for life years lost is very high for such a small amount of gold, creating credibility for the title of this tudy: “the blood wedding ring”. The impact from the conflict is several orders of magnitude larger than the impact in any other process. If the impact assessment result from the conflict is excluded from the results, the emissions occurring at the extraction and processing of gold instead had the greatest impact, several orders of magnitude larger than any other process. In particular, mercury emissions to air had a high impact on human health during the processing of gold in artisanal mining in the DRC. The other processes have more minor impacts on human health. Sensitivity analyses were conducted to evaluate data gaps and uncertainties. These analyses in general showed that the results of the impact assessment are reasonable. The overall conclusion is that even though the results are uncertain, the conflict’s impact on human health is still several magnitudes larger than those of all other processes evaluated in the study.
Annan geovetenskap och miljövetenskap , Annan naturvetenskap , Other Earth and Related Environmental Sciences , Other Natural Sciences
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