Gold rush adds mucho mercurio to the Amazon

Interesting report out of Peru says that in illegal gold mining, every 10 grams of gold requires about 20 grams of mercury, and half that mercury gets left in the environment. My translation:

More than half of the 40 tons a year of mercury that illegal mining uses to extract gold from the washings deep in the Madre de Dios region is released without control into the environment, mainly into the Amazon river system, which translates into high levels of anemia that haunts the better part of the population.

In the program Citizens’ Dialogue, broadcast on Radio Aurora in coproduction with Inforegion, mining engineer German Concha Ordoñez, of the Project Accountability Area in the Regional Mining Department said that for every 10 grams of gold, 20 grams of mercury are used.

“If the retort method is used, half the chemical inputs can be recovered, but the rest is lost to the environment,” explained the expert. That is, into the water of the rivers and into the air through the smokes produced from burning the product in the process.

In turn, biologist Margarita Soto Benavente, docent of the Amazon University of Madre de Dios, said that mercury is able to amalgamate with other chemical elements, which makes it a fundamental part of gold extraction.

I have a feeling the uncontacted tribes of the area lack the capacity to chelate mercury out of their systems, so they are probably getting sick.

Meanwhile added stresses are probably the last thing the Amazon needs — this report says climate change may be drying the forest out (as predicted at least as early as 1992).

3 thoughts on “Gold rush adds mucho mercurio to the Amazon

  1. etudiant

    Tracking mercury sales would give a rough measure of actual gold production from these various under the radar gold mining operations. Taxing mercury might drive some of the more fly by night operators out of business.
    Separately, it is astonishing that Brazil remains quiescent while the headwaters of the Amazon are being systematically polluted with mercury, a long lasting and powerful neurotoxin.

    1. sapitosetty Post author

      Sales are more or less tracked but it doesn’t help much. If you drive the price up in Peru, they get it from elsewhere. That’s an excellent point about Brazil.

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