Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is an important activity in many developing countries as it provides a primary and additional source of income, particularly in rural regions where economic alternatives to agriculture are limited. In addition to the use of mercury in ASGM, cyanide can be applied to dissolve gold but also residual mercury left by the artisanal gold miners in the tailings. Cyanide in high doses is highly lethal as it rapidly diffuses into tissue and binds to target sites within seconds where it is inhibiting cellular respiration. Milder cases of cyanide poisoning include symptoms such as headache, nausea, vertigo, anxiety, altered mental status, tachypnea and hypertension. As cyanide poisoning produces rapid blockade of cellular respiration, plasma and blood lactate level correlate with cyanide blood concentration.
The practice of cyanidation has long been observed in ASGM in Latin America and Asia. More recently, the practice of cyanidation in ASGM has also been reported to be on the merge in sub-Saharan Africa. No study has yet been conducted on health and environmental effects associated with cyanide use in artisanal small-scale gold miners in Africa. At the same time, measurement and monitoring of pollutants and associated environmental and health impacts has been identified as important challenges to be addressed for working toward policy change that aims to minimize the cumulative and multi-layered adverse impacts of ASGM.