Illegal gold mining exposing Peru’s indigenous tribes to mercury poisoning

Indigenous children in Peru’s south eastern Amazon, an area where tens of thousands of illegal gold miners operate, have unsafe mercury concentrations over three times the level of their non-native counterparts, a study has found.

The artisanal gold miners, who use mercury to extract the precious metal from river silt, dump more than 30 tons of the toxic metal in rivers and lakes in the Amazon region every year.

Native communities had levels of mercury roughly five times that considered safe by the World Health Organisation (WHO), whereas people in urban areas had double the safe limit, the study by the Carnegie Amazon Mercury Project found.

Overall, children were the most vulnerable group with mean mercury levels more than double the safe limit (1ppm – parts per million). Children in native communities had mercury levels more than five times that limit (5.2ppm). Some individuals had levels as high as 34 times the safe limit, according to the research.

Women of childbearing age were also disproportionately affected. Mercury, a neurotoxin, can cause severe, permanent brain damage to an unborn child.

The data was gathered in 2012 from the hair samples of 1,030 people in 25 communities across Peru’s Madre de Dios region.

The miners have also deforested around 70sqkm of rainforest, according to official figures. Madre de Dios, known as the “capital of biodiversity,” is renowned for its eco-tourism.

Source: Dan Collyns | theguardian.com

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