Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has declared a 60-day emergency in a remote part of the Amazon to curb high levels of mercury poisoning from rampant illegal gold mining, the country’s environment minister said on Monday.
A growing number of studies show that residents of the Madre de Dios region near Peru’s southeastern border with Brazil have dangerous levels of mercury in their bodies, Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal said in announcing the move.
Tens of thousands of illegal miners who dredge for gold in the rivers and wetlands of Madre de Dios use mercury to separate ore from rock, often handling the neurotoxin with their bare hands and inhaling its fumes when it is burned off.
The miners dump about 40 tonnes of mercury into Amazonian rivers per year and have destroyed more than 100,000 hectares (247,105 acres) of rainforest in Madre de Dios, according to the environment ministry.
“Forty-one percent of the population of Madre de Dios is exposed to mercury pollution,” Pulgar-Vidal said in a news conference.
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