Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

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’

54% of parents with school-age children expressed concern that their children could fall behind academically, according to a poll conducted over the summer of 2020. Maria Symchych-Navrotska / Getty Images

By Pamela Davis-Kean

With in-person instruction becoming the exception rather than the norm, 54% of parents with school-age children expressed concern that their children could fall behind academically, according to a poll conducted over the summer of 2020. Initial projections from the Northwest Evaluation Association, which conducts research and creates commonly used standardized tests, suggest that these fears are well-grounded, especially for children from low-income families.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A teenager reads a school English assignment at home after her school shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 22, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York. Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images

The pandemic has affected everyone, but mental health experts warn that youth and teens are suffering disproportionately and that depression and suicide rates are increasing.

Read More Show Less

Trending

In an ad released by Republican Voters Against Trump, former coronavirus task force member Olivia Troye roasted the president for his response. Republican Voters Against Trump / YouTube

Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Read More Show Less
Climate Group

Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
A field of sunflowers near the Mehrum coal-fired power station, wind turbines and high-voltage lines in the Peine district of Germany on Aug. 3, 2020. Julian Stratenschulte / picture alliance via Getty Images

By Elliot Douglas

The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch