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Students clean up ‘dirty gold’

From his office in the basement of the Phyllis P. Marshall Center, Salman Khan, a senior majoring in microbiology, is manning the Tampa headquarters of a national write-in campaign against the effects of gold mining in developing countries.

The No Dirty Gold Campaign (NDG) is asking major jewelry retailers across the country to sign the Golden Rules, a set of guidelines concerning the source of gold used in their products.

Nineteen retailers have signed the rules, including Wal-Mart and Commemorative Brands, a retailer that specializes in class rings.

According to Khan, there is one notable exception to the list.

“Just last week, Wal-Mart signed the rules, which is why right now we are putting pressure on Target,” he said. “What we’re trying to do as students and as Target customers is, we’re trying to send a powerful message on Valentine’s Day.”

As part of a movement to raise support for their cause and change the policy of Target, NDG supporters across the country are writing Valentine’s Day cards to send to Target CEO Robert Ulrich, urging him to sign the Golden Rules.

Representatives from Target disagree with this portrayal of their policies.

A written rebuttal from Target states, “Despite reports to the contrary, Target has agreed to participate in discussions and meetings on the No Dirty Gold campaign and is actively engaged in vendor education and support of this program through our existing Global Compliance program.”

However, Khan said this isn’t enough. He feels that as an industry leader, Target should set an example by holding itself to higher standards.

Environmental engineering professor Maya Trotz is no stranger to the impact that gold mining can have on a developing country. A native of Guyana, Trotz outlined the problems faced by a developing country that relies on the tax revenue generated by major gold mines.

Trotz’s native country faced such problems recently, as a major mining operation pulled out of Guyana after 10 years.

“They provided a lot of income in the country, but at the same time, the percentage that they were taxed is really small,” Trotz said. “So it’s sort of an unfair relationship because now we’re left with a huge legacy of contamination.”

Trotz also described the environmental impact that unregulated mining can have. She explained that in the United States, the effects of the California gold rush of the 19th century are still evident, as mercury – a chemical used in one of two processes used to purify gold – still seeps into the ground water.

The second purification process involves the use of cyanide, a chemical that is deadly to humans in extremely small doses. According to Trotz, the cyanide is applied to raw ore in a liquid solution. The cyanide can be eliminated from the runoff of this process by biological processes. However, in many unrestricted operations, this solution – which contains cyanide as well as a cocktail of poisonous metals, such as lead and cadmium – is held in ponds without adequate lining. This solution then can leak into ground water or overflow into surrounding areas.

No Dirty Gold is hoping to help eliminate these types of social and environmental woes. For more information, go to

The Valentine’s cards are available in the Volunteer USF office in the basement of the Marshall Center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.