Hunger for gold means the Amazon has reached ‘tipping point’ of mercury contamination from illegal mining – by Maya Fernandez (CBC News World – December 28, 2023)

Illegal gold mining in the Amazon has intensified, with one expert calling it a ‘transnational crime’

The rising value of gold worldwide has amplified illegal mining in the Amazon, where liquid mercury is being dumped in the Amazon River and causing scientists to warn that Indigenous communities and the environment could pay a far greater price.

Three weeks ago, Colombia, Brazil and the United States partnered up to destroy 19 illegal gold mining dredges in the Amazon Rainforest. According to Reuters, the dredges were producing about $1.9 million Cdn in gold.

Read more

Mercury is still an environmental threat – by Tristan Ahtone ( – November 9, 2023)

The heavy metal is poisoning Indigenous peoples’ environment and health, but no one can agree on how or when to get rid of it.

The negotiations produced no particularly big wins. There is still no agreement on a common, global method to measure and identify mercury-contaminated waste from industrial sources, like chemical manufacturers or oil and gas operators.

Mercury can still also be purchased online and traded internationally, and states could not agree on when to pull it from tooth fillings. But there were some successes: Nations have agreed to ban the use of mercury as a preservative in cosmetics by 2025 as well as to increase support for Indigenous peoples in future negotiations.

Read more

Brazil’s Criminal Groups Hamper Fight Against Illegal Mining in the Amazon – by Nelza Oliveira (Dialogo-Americas – August 23, 2023)

New Home Page

Brazil’s largest criminal groups, the First Command of the Capital (PCC) and the Red Command (CV), have been working together with illegal miners in the Amazon, hampering government efforts to eradicate mining and contributing to increased violence in Brazil’s Yanomami reservation, the largest indigenous territory in the world and home to approximately 30,000 indigenous people.

The criminals provide heavy machinery and weapons to miners, acting as security guards at certain sites, and helping to transport mined gold out of the Amazon. They also run prostitution and narcotrafficking rings on Yanomami land.

Read more

‘Our people are still suffering’: Brazil’s operations against illegal mining camps – by Jonathan Watts (The Guardian – August 15, 2023)

Like mechanised Valkyries, nine helicopters filled with armed men and women in camouflage uniforms swoop over dense forests and remote rivers – but this is not a scene from Apocalypse Now, it is a Brazilian government mission to forestall catastrophe in the Amazon rainforest.

The aircraft from the country’s two main environmental agencies, Ibama and ICMBio, fly for hours above the Tapajós basin, then break formation when they approach their targets: illegal goldmining camps that are contaminating the waters and earth of the forest.

Read more

Gold mining in the Amazon poisoning scores of threatened species – by Gloria Dickie and Jake Spring (Japan Times – August 7, 2023)

LOS AMIGOS BIOLOGICAL STATION, PERU – In a camping tent in the Peruvian jungle, four scientists are crowded around a tiny patient: An Amazonian rodent that could fit in the palm of a human hand.
The researchers placed the small-eared pygmy rice rat into a plastic chamber and piped in anesthetic gas until it rolled over, asleep.

Removing the creature from the chamber, they fitted it with a miniature anesthetic mask and measured its body parts with a ruler before gently pulling hairs from its back with tweezers. The hairs, bundled into a tiny plastic bag, would be carried to a nearby lab at the Los Amigos Biological Station for testing to determine whether the rat is yet another victim of mercury contamination.

Read more

As Sudan’s latest conflict intensifies, artisanal gold miners are caught in the crosshairs – by Philip Obaji Jr. (Equal – May 24, 2023)

On 17 April 2023, just before sunset in al-Ibaidiya, a Sudanese mining town on the banks of the River Nile about 400 kilometres north of Khartoum, four soldiers stormed the home of Omar Sheriff and dragged him out of his house. For hours, according to Sheriff, two of the soldiers searched his home, while the others held him hostage outside of his compound.

“They [the soldiers] falsely accused me of working with Russian merchants to smuggle gold out of Sudan,” Sheriff tells Equal Times. “They were hoping to find documents relating to gold smuggling operations at my home, but they couldn’t find anything incriminating.”

Read more

Gold standard: Peru miners phase out mercury in bid to clean up industry – by Izzy Sasada (The Guardian – April 21, 2023)

The hope is that ecological certification will bring higher prices and squeeze out criminal gangs running illegal operations

The mixture of gold, sand and dirt is laid out on top of the table. Faustino Orosco adds water and at the flick of a switch the table begins to shake. Orosco is using a new technique to extract gold in Madre de Dios, Peru’s goldmining centre, in an attempt to clean up the industry.

The shaking table separates the precious metal without the need for mercury, traditionally used to separate gold, which should reduce the health and environmental risks associated with mining.

Read more

‘Worse than it ever was’: Why the Amazon’s largest isolated tribe is dying – by Jack Nicas (Irish Times – March 29, 2023)

The illegal tin mine was so remote that, for three years, the large gash it cut into the Amazon rainforest had gone largely ignored. So when three mysterious helicopters suddenly hovered overhead, unannounced, the miners living there scrambled into the forest.

By the time Brazil’s environmental special forces team piled out, the miners were out of sight, but the mine’s two large pumps were still vibrating in the mud. The federal agents began dousing the machines in diesel fuel.

Read more

Countries’ reporting fails to tell full story of mercury pollution – by Staff ( – March 26, 2023)

A recent study of baseline mercury emission estimates by artisanal gold mining reported by 25 countries—many in developing African, South American and Asian nations—found that these estimates rarely provide enough information to tell whether shifts in the rate from one year to the next were the result of actual change or data uncertainty.

Key variables—like how the country determines the amount of its gold production—can result in vastly different baseline estimates. Yet, countries often don’t report this range of possible estimates.

Read more

‘A war society doesn’t see’: the Brazilian force driving out mining gangs from Indigenous lands – by Tom Phillips (The Guardian – February 28, 2023)

For the last four years Brazil’s rainforests bled. “They bled like never before,” said Felipe Finger as he prepared to venture into the jungle with his assault rifle to staunch the environmental carnage inflicted on the Amazon under the former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.

Moments later Finger, a mettlesome special forces commander for Brazil’s environmental protection agency, Ibama, was airborne in a single-engine helicopter, hurtling over the forest canopy towards the frontline of a ferocious war on nature and the Indigenous peoples who lived here long before Portuguese explorers arrived more than 500 years ago.

Read more

Ending the toxic trail of small-scale gold mining (UN Environment Programme – February 15, 2023)

Strapped together by tape and frayed ropes, wooden logs demarcate the mineshaft’s entrance, a hole in the ground no larger than a metre square. A young man nearby cranks a lever, kickstarting some generators. The steady hum of the machinery blends with the creaking of a pulley system, drowning out the sounds of the gentle breeze blowing through the mining site, located in Paracale, north Philippines.

A young man tied to a harness begins his descent down the pit and deep beneath the planet’s surface, his headlamp the only visible source of light. Upon reaching the bottom of the cramped mineshaft, he pulls out a small chisel and hammer and begins chipping away at the rock.

Read more

Brazil launches operation to drive illegal miners from Yanomami lands – by Tom Phillips (The Guardian – February 8, 2023)

The Brazilian government has launched its campaign to drive tens of thousands of illegal miners from the country’s largest Indigenous reserve, with special-forces environmental operatives destroying aircraft and seizing weapons and boats during an operation deep in the Amazon’s Yanomami territory.

Members of Brazil’s environmental protection agency Ibama – with support from the Indigenous agency Funai and the newly created ministry for Indigenous peoples – launched the long-awaited operation on Monday, with troops establishing a base along the Uraricoera river.

Read more

‘Right material’ to efficiently remove mercury from water shows promising results – by Staff ( – August 17, 2022)

Researchers at Drexel University have found the right material to efficiently catch mercury —even at low levels— and clean up contaminated bodies of water. According to lead researcher Masoud Soroush, adsorption —the process of chemically attracting and removing contaminants— seems to be the most promising technology for removing mercury from water, due to its relative simplicity.

“Modern adsorbents, such as resins, mesoporous silica, chalcogenides, and mesoporous carbons, have higher efficiencies than traditional adsorbents, such as activated carbon, clays, and zeolites that have a low affinity toward mercury and low capacities,” Soroush said in a media statement.

Read more

Pope worried about pollution of rivers with mercury used by gold miners in the Amazon – by Bruno Kelly and Anthony Boadle ( – August 9, 2022)

Pope Francis will install the first cardinal of Brazil’s Amazon region this month in a sign of his concern for the rainforest and its indigenous inhabitants, the man whom he picked for the role said.

Dom Leonardo Steiner, archbishop of the Brazilian city of Manaus, said in an interview that Francis, the first pope from Latin America, is worried about deforestation, threats to indigenous cultures and pollution of rivers with mercury used by gold miners in the Amazon.

Read more

The Illegal Airstrips Bringing Toxic Mining to Brazil’s Indigenous Land – by Manuela Andreoni, Blacki Migliozzi, Pablo Robles and Denise Lu (New York Times – August 2, 2022)

BOA VISTA, Brazil — From 2,500 feet in the air, the dirt airstrip is just a crack in a seemingly endless ocean of rainforest, surrounded by muddy mining pits that bleed toxic chemicals into a riverbed.

The airstrip is owned by the Brazilian government — the only way for health care officials to reach the Indigenous people in the nearby village. But illegal miners have seized it, using small planes to ferry equipment and fuel into areas where roads don’t exist. And when a plane the miners don’t recognize approaches, they spread fuel canisters along the airstrip to make landing impossible.

Read more