ORCID Identifier(s)


Graduation Semester and Year




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering


Civil Engineering

First Advisor

M Kathleen Smits

Second Advisor

Thomas Phelan


ABSTRACT: Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is of significant interest to the international research community, government officials, and non-governmental organizations due to its large environmental footprint and its presence in over 70 countries worldwide. Despite the health and environmental concerns associated with mercury use in ASGM and the increased awareness at the international level, attempts to address environmental contamination has faced resistance as they often fail to account for the real-world conditions at sites of concern. Additionally, national and international interventions have fallen short when addressing ASGM pollution, calling for a new engineering approach towards ASGM-related projects. The purpose of this work is to examine how environmental risk perceptions of ASGM contamination shape and inform environmental responses at varying spatial scales (i.e., local communities, regional non-governmental organizations, national governments, and international governing bodies) and to demonstrate how engineers can utilize this knowledge when co-designing and co-creating environmental projects. First, locally developed environmental projects were identified and evaluated in a case study based out of Andes, Antioquia, Colombia. This research demonstrated that community-developed environmental projects do exist in ASGM communities, and these projects are often the result of contextual conditions and uses of social capital. This analysis also provides a framework for engineers to collaborate with communities on enhancing the performance of and community buy-in for these “positive deviance” projects. The lessons learned from community-based environmental responses were then translated to a larger scale by focusing on regional efforts to address environmental contamination. Specifically, this research evaluated lessons learned from water, sanitation, and hygiene projects by researchers and non-governmental organizations and translated those lessons to tangible actions to be taken by engineers when developing ASGM environmental management projects. Next, environmental perception of ASGM was evaluated at the national and global scale by evaluating the Minamata Convention on Mercury’s published National Action Plans and their associated mercury baseline inventories. This research focused on the various methods used to evaluate the quantity of mercury being released or emitted into the environment and how these values are used to inform national policy regarding ASGM activities. The study of current baseline estimation methods revealed that countries often fail to report the uncertainty of their baseline estimates, thus decreasing the usefulness of these estimates to evaluate National Action Plan policy changes and projects. Finally, this information was synthesized into an educational module to educate the next generation of engineers how to integrate environmental perspectives into engineering problem definition using a commonly used engineering tool. The findings of this dissertation demonstrate how environmental perceptions of ASGM shape both the understanding of the ASGM sector and the environmental responses. This work provides the foundation for future environmental actions to address pollution and environmental contamination at different scales.


Artisanal and small-scale mining, Environmental initiatives, Community perspectives, Socio-technical engineering


Civil and Environmental Engineering | Civil Engineering | Engineering


Degree granted by The University of Texas at Arlington

Available for download on Saturday, August 10, 2024