The retorta is essentially a still, used for distilling mercury, while the amalgam is being heated.
This device is generally composed by a cup (“crisol”) in which is put the element to distil. This cup has a lid and a cooler which helps to condense mercury vapors during the amalgam heating.
Condensed mercury drops are collected in a transparent container.
It exists an infinity of different models and sizes of retorta and their efficiency are totally unequal. Indeed, it depends on which connections are used and on what kind of material the retorta is made of.
Why use a retorta?
Several reasons can justify the use of a retorta:
- Mercury is a highly toxic substance that generates various human diseases, by flowing directly through the skin, by inhalation or ingestion. Miners are exposed to mercury during several steps of the gold extraction process: during the amalgamation and during the re-melting. Those contaminations due to mercury vapor are the most dangerous ones and the most well-known. Using a retorta helps protecting miners and their families from those mercury vapor, avoiding long-term illnesses.
- Mercury generally affects the environment. Some high doses of mercury have been found in the ground, in water, fruits, fishes and other animals of the Madre de Dios region. Those places and animals will stay infected during decades.
- Having a retorta is part of the formalization process.
- Collecting mercury does not only mean taking care of our health and of the environment. It also means saving money because the retrieved mercury can be reused for other amalgams.
More information on: Mesa de dialogo permanente (in spanish).