Originally written January 14, 2017
Updated (extensively!) February 17, 2020
Wait. What? Mercury in a Gold Ring?!
How is that possible?
When tested with a high-precision XRF instrument, this gold wedding set (purchased new c. 2016) was also shown to contain:
- 5,527 ppm Mercury
- 1,214 ppm Arsenic
- 2,867 ppm Silver
- 10,066 ppm Titanium &
- 22,812 ppm Copper
The ring was non-detect (“negative”) for Lead and Cadmium.
Is that a lot of Mercury?
- Well – one interpretation could be that Mercury is soooo toxic that the United States has not even determined a “safe” threshold for Mercury in consumer goods, to be able to set a regulatory “total content” limit for Mercury, like there is for Lead.
- One could imagine that if a “total Mercury content limit” were to be set (in a country where and during a time when the EPA has not been decimated!), that number would be as low as or lower than the regulatory limits that have been set for Lead.
- The current limits for Lead in consumer goods [those “intended for use by children” — there are no limits for adults, under U.S. law currently! ] is below 90 ppm Lead in the paint, glaze, or coating and below 100 ppm Lead in the substrate (the base metal – in the case of something like a solid metal ring).
- Denmark is the only country with a total content limit for Mercury in consumer goods intended for use by children. That limit is 100 ppm.
So when you think about Mercury in this context – that it is generally seen as being even MORE TOXIC than Lead — and that this ring is coming in at 5,527 ppm Mercury (which is waaay more than 90 ppm for Lead – or Denmark’s standard of 100 ppm), I would think the level of Mercury found in this ring should be considered a super-high level of Mercury (especially in the absence of any safety threshold determination set for Mercury content for consumer goods used daily by adults.)
Is this a health hazard?
- I have no idea if this represents a health hazard to the wearer.
- I don’t believe the potential health impacts of Mercury in Gold jewelry (especially Gold jewelry worn daily – like wedding rings) has ever been studied at all (please correct me if I am wrong about this!)
- I don’t believe the total content (in parts per million) of Mercury in modern Gold jewelry sold today has ever been documented or studied at all yet (by anyone other than me.) Again, correct me if I am wrong on this (comment on this post and I will update the body of this post with any links provided!)
- I don’t believe this concern is on the radar of the modern jewelry industry, nor any regulatory agencies.
- I believe I may possibly in fact be the first to post about this concern with specific ppm-level readings for a piece of Gold jewelry.
Given it appears that no one knows about the potential human impacts of Mercury in Gold jewelry (specifically to the user) – and consequently no one knows or has reason to suspect that they may benefit (financially) from such a study – I doubt that this is an inquiry that will be taken up any time soon by any industry group or even any nonprofit. But who knows — maybe someone from CEH or USPIRG will read this article, and do a study (finding unsafe levels Mercury in modern Gold wedding bands), and announce it as “their new discovery” in about 6 to 20 months (as these and other agencies have done with past findings of mine, such as Lead in trumpet mouth pieces; Lead in fidget spinners; etc.) once they noticed there was public interest in the concern! lol!
How did MERCURY get into my wedding ring??
Is this a common problem?
Like this ring set, much of the contemporary / newer gold Jewelry that I have tested using XRF technology has also tested positive for at least some Mercury. This is among the reasons I do not recommend gold jewelry. Conversely, antique gold wedding sets or sets made from recycled antique gold (with “Antique” being perhaps best defined as being of the era of your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents – depending on how old you are!) generally test negative for heavy metal toxicant contaminants (Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, and Arsenic.)
While I cannot know for sure, because most rings are not marked with a year of manufacture… the rings that I have tested that have been negative for Mercury specifically seem to fall within the range of 50 to 150 years old. My understanding is that Gold that was mined more than 150 years ago [say, 200-500+ years old], will also likely test positive for high levels of Mercury (possibly even higher levels than the more modern pieces.)
As for the question of how it got there, Mercury is intentionally added to the ore slurries (water plus crushed freshly-mined rocks containing varying amounts of Gold or Silver) to increase the extraction yield fo the precious metals. In this process “traces” of Mercury bind to the final product of the precious metals — and this is the source of the Mercury (at the levels I have been detecting using XRF technology) in the finished jewelry.
This mining technique is apparently a recent “throwback” phenomenon. It is my understanding that the presence of Mercury at these levels is due to the return – by many current mining operations – to these ancient practices for mining and extracting gold (in which Mercury is added) – practices that had previously been abandoned because of the health implications for the miners.
Tamara, is there any science to back up your findings?
As a filmmaker I watch all of the documentaries I can – no matter how bad or old (outdated) some of them might be. Consequently, I watch a lot of the made-for-TV series about science and history with my kids. One of our favorite series was “Mysteries at the Museum”, but we had watched all of those — so recently, my kids and I started watching a similar series: “Museum Secrets”, on Amazon Prime Video. It’s actually one of the better series of this sort [there are many, with similar names]. And one of the episodes clearly and thoroughly discusses the issue and origins of the use of Mercury in Gold mining (including the historically known medical complications)! Check out Season #3, Episode #1 of “Museum Secrets” – epsiode title: “Inside The Palacio Real, Madrid”. (Affiliate link: https://amzn.to/39EFc9B)
Here’s a quote from that epsiode:
“Today we know that Mercury gives off toxic vapor, which is why the Almaden Mine was closed in 2000.” … “16th century alchemists believed the risk was worth it… some thought mercury was the fabled philosopher’s stone that could turn Lead into Gold, while others discovered the element’s real magic. Mercury can liberate precious metals [like gold] from low grade ore, and that would become the lucrative solution to a problem.”
……. with the “problem” being the challenge – for 16th-Century Spaniards – of efficient Gold mining in the Americas! (you need to watch the full episode — t’s good!)
The presence of Mercury in Gold (and in the gold mining process) has also been written up in scientific research studies and historical research papers as well. Here’s a quote from one article – linked below:
“Mercury has an uncanny ability to bind to precious metals, and for millennia, people have used it to mine gold and silver. Small-scale, or “artisanal,” mining — which makes use of mercury in this way — has recently become the leading source of mercury pollution, several recent studies show.”
So what do you expect me to do with this new information?
I mean – I know that Mercury is bad… now what?
As a result of there not being any certainty regarding whether or not Mercury-contaminated Gold is safe in jewelry, I have personally chosen to not have any Gold jewelry in my home or my life. My wedding ring is made of Titanium [my husband made it for me out of a piece of the tubing he builds his Titanium bike frames out of!] and I wear only Silver earrings [also often hubby’s gifts – with decorative elements that are bike parts! lol] Note: I have yet to find any Mercury in 925 sterling silver!
As always, thank you for reading and for sharing my posts.
Please let me know if you have any questions.