Study finds mounting mercury threat in Peru Amazon

Mar 21, 2013

A study of mercury contamination in a southeastern Peruvian jungle area ravaged by illegal gold mining found unsafe levels of the toxic metal in 78 percent of adults in the regional capital and in 60 percent of fish sold at markets.

The study by the Carnegie Institution for Science calls the contamination a "grave and mounting threat to public health."

Mercury is a byproduct of artisanal gold mining as practiced by the estimated 40,000 miners in the Madre de Dios region.

In discussing the overall human impact, the newly released study said that the most vulnerable to had the highest average mercury levels: women of childbearing age. As a neurotoxin, mercury can cause severe, permanent brain damage to an unborn child.

The study, led by Luis E. Fernandez of Stanford University, said increased in 10 of 11 studied in 2009 and then again in 2012.

Peru is the world's fifth largest gold producer, and the government has made scant progress trying to halt the illegal mining and formalize the miners.

Unlike formal mining that occurs in the Andean highlands, the mining in Madre de Dios consists chiefly of scouring riverbeds and alluvial deposits for flecks of gold that adhere to mercury in a crude amalgamation process.

About 35 metric tons of mercury is dispersed into the air and waters of the region annually, exposing not just miners to the metal but also city dwellers in Puerto Maldonado, the regional capital that is one of the urban areas where mercury vapor is released by "gold shops" that buy and refine gold.

In addition to the , the mining has denuded some 70 square miles (18,000 hectares) of formerly virgin rainforest in one of the world's most biologically diverse regions.

Explore further: Rising anger as Nicaragua canal to break ground

5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Gold prices spur six-fold spike in Amazon deforestation

Apr 19, 2011

Deforestation in parts of the Peruvian Amazon has increased six-fold in recent years as small-scale miners, driven by record gold prices, blast and clear more of the lowland rainforest, according to a new Duke University-led ...

Amazon forest and the price of gold

Apr 22, 2011

Ellen Silbergeld keeps the price of gold posted on the door to her office at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. The price is now at a record high (better than $1,500 an ounce) ...

Talk of treaty ban on mercury concerns scientists

Oct 21, 2011

(AP) -- Scientists are warning officials negotiating a global treaty on mercury that banning the deadly chemical completely would be dangerous for public health because of the chemical's use in vaccines.

U.N. seeks global pact to curb mercury

Nov 13, 2007

Worldwide government leaders meeting in Bangkok have been asked to step up efforts to develop an international agreement curbing mercury.

Recommended for you

Rising anger as Nicaragua canal to break ground

14 hours ago

As a conscripted soldier during the Contra War of the 1980s, Esteban Ruiz used to flee from battles because he didn't want to have to kill anyone. But now, as the 47-year-old farmer prepares to fight for ...

Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

Dec 20, 2014

One of the most prolific oil and gas basins on the planet sits just off Cuba's northwest coast, and the thaw in relations with the United States is giving rise to hopes that Cuba can now get in on the action.

New challenges for ocean acidification research

Dec 19, 2014

Over the past decade, ocean acidification has received growing recognition not only in the scientific area. Decision-makers, stakeholders, and the general public are becoming increasingly aware of "the other carbon dioxide ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.