Venezuela: Guayana is polluted

Several investigations report on five mercury spots in Bolívar area. Between the division line of urgency and importance, environmental experts call attention regarding the government’s intention with the mining sector.

Mercury already forms part of Guayana’s landscape; in the map of Bolívar state five spots reported to be contaminated by mercury are highlighted.

Environmental experts have been warning about the subject for more than 30 years; however, the most recent scientific research shows that the toxic effects have been spreading along with the growing illegal mines in the Southern part of the country.

The last warnings came from the basin of River Caura last year, supported by a research conducted by the La Salle Foundation, which confirmed the existence of mercury levels above the normal rate in most indigenous people examined in five sanema and ye’kwana communities of the area.

Mining in the Caura started in 2005, and after several years of warnings, the research published by Foundation La Salle in company with the University of Oriente (UDO) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) confirms the presence of mercury traces in the zone where 1,500 animal species  and 2,600 varied plants exist.

“We have to do something,” concluded the experts who went to the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) last week, in order to seek solutions and ask the government to define the mining policies.

Reunited at a forum called by the Network of Environmental Organizations of Venezuela (ARA network), researchers and indigenous leaders pointed out that nowadays, more than ever, the small mining sector is causing big troubles.

30 years later

The first time that the secretary of the Academy of Physical , Mathematical and Natural Sciences of Venezuela (ACFIMAN), Antonio Machado Allison, warned about the mercury pollution in Bolívar was decades ago and he ended up appearing in court, charged with creating social distress.

Last February 21, 2013, he brought the case to the spotlight once again before an auditorium, to which he explained that mining migrations have triggered a cycle which starts by spilling mercury inside the forest and runs to the rivers, where most varied species of fish get polluted; a food consumed by local communities.

It is well known that Guayana and other places in the world possess metals in natural state, several years after the first warnings, he now indicates that there is no doubt whatsoever that the mercury spread is an issue caused by gold exploitation. “There exist a massive raise of mercury concentrations in basins like River Caura’s,” Machado asserted.

Caura’s case, however, is just one out of the bunch. There is a chain of researches stored somewhere else than in libraries which report several mercury spots in Bolívar state: the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) released in 2004 a paper which points out abnormal creatinine levels in miners of the El Callao area.

The University of Oriente approved in 2006 a thesis which speaks of the high mercury concentrations in the flora that surrounds one of the mines of Las Cristinas sector in the forest reserve  of Imataca.

Additionally, between 2006 and 2009, other two researches conducted by the UDO were brought up; these investigations warn about contamination in two of the native communities and in the fish species which dwell in La Paragua.


Mercury also spotted in Amazonas

Even in Amazonas state there are traces of mercury contamination; another research published by Foundation La Salle in company with the WWF, -a non-governmental organization of Colombia- indicates that they happened to find fish of payara species with concentrations of 1.45 micrograms of mercury per gram in the confluence of River Orinoco and River Ventuari.

In brief, they counted on concentrations levels three times higher than the standard concentration levels established by the World Health Organization (WHO).

It is thousand warnings and concerning different matters. No news of Venezuelan citizens dead because of this phenomenon have been reported so far; nevertheless, there is no need to wait until the worst happens in order to tackle the issue, environmental expert María Eugenia Gil indicates from the Clear Water Foundation’s Office.

“In Venezuela, she claims, the relationship between contamination and morbidity has not been established, but it is obvious that mercury affects the cells, causes cancer and genetic malformations.”

Authorities from the Ministry of Environment have also considered the idea of teaching miners; however, in the division line between what is urgent and what is important, the Venezuelan government needs to redefine where it is heading to in regards to the mining sector.

While three projects have been brought to life in 10 years, illegal mines have been growing along with the gold price: in 2003, the government launched more than 260 cooperatives under the welfare program Misión Piar (Mission Piar); then they launched the program Reconversión Minera (Mining Reconversion Program), and later on, they launched the project Plan Caura (Program Plan Caura).

Joseph Poliszuk |


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