Archive | Artisanal Small-Scale Gold Mining/Mercury Problems

Peru’s illegal gold miners back Fujimori’s vow to end crackdown – by Mitra Taj (Reuters U.S. – May 31, 2016)

HUEPETUHE, PERU – In this wildcat gold mining town in the Peruvian Amazon, the boom is over. A government crackdown on illegal mines at the end of a decade-long gold rush has shuttered restaurants, quieted the town’s muddied streets and slowed the flow of migrants from poor Andean towns seeking the jungle’s riches.

But the residents of Huepetuhe, whose town square is dominated by a golden statue of a muscular miner, see a shimmer of hope in presidential election front-runner Keiko Fujimori’s promise to decriminalize the makeshift mines at the heart of the region’s economy.

Fujimori says she will repeal laws aimed at protecting the environment that ban the use of dredges and heavy machinery by miners in rivers and wetlands. She is also offering miners cheap credit and tax exemptions while they form tax-paying businesses. Continue Reading →

Asian Gold Miners Use Borax to Replace Toxic Mercury – by Ben Barber (Huffington Post – November 27, 2016)

Each year tens of thousands of people are poisoned by toxic mercury spewed into the air, land and water by small-scale gold miners in Indonesia and other low income countries where production has soared as gold prices skyrocketed.

Now a U.S.-based NGO is working with a Danish government agency to substitute toxic mercury with safe borax — a chemical used for centuries in soap and other products.

Some 600 tons of mercury are released each year in Indonesia alone — more than the total mercury contamination in Japan’s Minamata Bay outbreak in the 1950s which left 1,700 dead and thousands more with neurological damage from mercury wastes.

These days, small-scale miners mix mercury with gold-laced ore to create an amalgam of gold and mercury. Continue Reading →

The Toxic Toll of Indonesia’s Gold Mines – by Richard C. Paddock (National Geographic – May 24, 2016)

More than a million small-scale miners in this island nation are poisoned, which is leaving children with crippling birth defects.

SEKOTONG, INDONESIA – Ipan is 16 months old and suffering his third seizure of the morning. His head is too large for his body, and his legs are as thin as sticks. He arches his back, and his limbs stiffen. He cries out in pain.

His mother, Fatimah, tries to comfort Ipan, but there’s not much she can do. A dukun, or shaman, says his soul was invaded by the spirits of the monkey, bat, and octopus. On his advice, Fatimah and her husband, Nursah, changed the boy’s name from Iqbal to Ipan and fed him tiny rice balls mixed with octopus.

“The dukun says this is why Ipan’s legs look like a monkey’s legs,” Nursah says. “Actually, I don’t believe that, but I will try anything.” Doctors say the real culprit is more down-to-earth: mercury poisoning. His parents are small-scale miners who used the heavy metal to process gold for years before Ipan was born, including while Fatimah was pregnant. Continue Reading →

Peru declares mining-related emergency in remote part of Amazon (Reuters U.S. – May 24, 2016)

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. Continue Reading →