Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Peru Declares State of Emergency as Mercury Contamination From Illegal Gold Mining Poisons People and Planet

Health + Wellness
Peru Declares State of Emergency as Mercury Contamination From Illegal Gold Mining Poisons People and Planet

Peru's government has declared a two-month state of emergency across 11 Amazon jungle districts due to mercury contamination caused by widespread illegal gold mining activities.

The South American country, home to 13 percent of the iconic Amazon rainforest, is the sixth largest gold producer in the world. Covert mining for the luxury metal, however, has been a major cost to the environment and human health.

"Gold has a dirty underbelly, whether the horrific mercury poisoning in the Peruvian Amazon from small-scale mining, or the human rights abuses in northern Peru perpetuated by multinational mining companies," Earthworks mining program director Payal Sampat told EcoWatch.

According to Mining.com, illicit gold production in Peru increased fivefold since 2012, and it is estimated to provide 100,000 direct jobs in the country, 40 percent of which are in the Madre de Dios region in southern Peru.

Studies from Stanford University and other institutions have detected high levels of mercury in Peru's citizens, fish and waterways.

The International Business Times noted that thousands of miners, who are working illegally in the region, use mercury to extract gold from the rivers.

"Some 15 percent of the production is believed to be extracted illegally with little to no measures taken to protect the environment," the publication writes.

According to Reuters, miners dump 40 tonnes of mercury into Amazonian rivers annually, destroying more than 100,000 hectares (247,105 acres) of rainforest in the Madre de Dios region, the environment ministry said.

Tambopata National Reserve, an important protected area in the southern Peruvian Amazon in Madre de Dios. "One can clearly see the beginning of the illegal gold mining activity and deforestation within the reserve between September (left panel) and November (right panel) 2015," MAAP says. Photo credit: Monitoring the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP)

As for human health, the toxic chemical can affect vital functions of the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.

Environment minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal said during a news conference that 41 percent of the population—about 50,000 people—in Madre de Dios are exposed to mercury pollution.

"The consequences of mining activity in Madre de Dios will be with us for the next 80 years, and that must be fought at its roots," he said. "Declaring the emergency brings action, hospitals, food such as uncontaminated fish, among other things."

Indigenous and rural communities are particularly vulnerable since they consume the fish they catch from the river. Survival International writes that "up to 80 percent of the recently contacted Nahua tribe have been poisoned with mercury" and have been suffering from acute respiratory infections and other health problems since they were contacted.

Despite Peruvian President Ollanta Humala calling a state of emergency on Monday, Survival International says that the government has known about the contamination since 2014 and has done little to address the problem.

According to the Associated Press, the government is sending hospital boats to help treat people living in the affected area. Authorities are also trying to crack down on illegal mining.

"Consumers need to be aware of the human and environmental costs of the gold in their jewelry boxes and smart phones, and demand accountability from mining companies and retailers," Sampat said.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Ground-Breaking Agreement Marks First Voluntarily Limits to Industrial Fishing in Arctic

Scientists Uncover Array of Strange Animals in Cave That Has Been Sealed Off for 5.5 Million Years

Vandana Shiva: Small Farmers Are Foundation to Food Security, Not Corporations Like Monsanto

‘The Beast Continues to Burn Out of Control’

In "Weather," Jenny Offill tells the story of a librarian named Lizzie who prepares for a climate apocalypse. Andrew Merry / Getty Images

By Suzanne Cords

One day Lizzie, the first-person narrator of the novel, receives an old book as a gift, with a dedication wishing the reader to be among the survivors. Like the preppers who build bunkers and stockpile supplies in remote areas to be ready for the end of the world, Lizzie is convinced that the end of the world is definitely near in times of a threatening climate disaster.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A Shell oil drilling rig off the coast of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea on May 21, 2015. Orjan F. Ellingvag / Corbis via Getty Images

By Jake Johnson

A federal appeals court on Tuesday dealt the final blow to former President Donald Trump's attempt to open nearly 130 million acres of territory in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans to oil and gas drilling.

Read More Show Less
Trending
Electric vehicles are the cars of the future. sl-f / Getty Images

By 2035, every new car and truck sold in the U.S. could be an EV, a new report says.

Read More Show Less
The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York, a polluted nearly 2 mile-long waterway that is an EPA Superfund site. Jonathan Macagba / Moment / Getty Images

Thousands of Superfund sites exist around the U.S., with toxic substances left open, mismanaged and dumped. Despite the high levels of toxicity at these sites, nearly 21 million people live within a mile of one of them, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Read More Show Less
The National Weather Service station in Chatham, Massachusetts, near the edge of a cliff at the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. Bryce Williams / National Weather Service in Boston / Norton

A weather research station on a bluff overlooking the sea is closing down because of the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less