Investigating mercury pollution in Indonesia

Sep 25, 2013

Professor Takanobu Inoue of Toyohashi Tech's Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering has been conducting field surveys of mercury poisoning in Indonesia for over a decade. His findings have serious implications and the situation is not improving.

"The main source of this pollution today is small-scale ," says Inoue, who is an expert on water environmental engineering. "Gold mining is easy to learn and simple to operate, so for people living on the , it offers hope for the future."

When there is no sophisticated technology available, gold mining involves simply mixing mercury and water with gold ore to form an amalgam. The mixture is then heated to remove the mercury by evaporation—most likely without any filtering— leaving behind the gold, while the water containing mercury residue is usually discarded directly into rivers.

Mercury is a heavy metal that can cause disability and death to miners, and to their families who become exposed to it through contaminated clothing and other items. Chronic poisoning can result in damage to the kidneys and the , while the lungs and can also be severely affected.

"It is necessary to educate the people on the dangers of ," says Inoue. "But there are few environmental researchers in the country, and the equipment they have to test for poisoning is limited, as are funds and ."

As a result, quantitative information on the extent of each year is scare and often inaccurate. The United Nations Environment Program, for instance, estimated that in 2011 approximately 70 tonnes of mercury was discharged into the environment. "But this UN figure is based on the import of mercury into Indonesia," says Inoue. "It does not take it account illegal imports, so the actual figure is certainly far higher."

Inoue has been sharing his findings with individual professors of several universities in Indonesian. He is encouraging them to join the Indonesia Society of Water and Aquatic Environment, where information can be shared and scientific papers on pollution presented and published at conferences.

To help impress on his Indonesian colleagues the dangers that exist, Inoue describes findings on the Minamata disease that was discovered in Minamata city, Japan, in 1956. It was caused by the release of waste water containing mercury pollutants into Minamata Bay by a local chemical company, where it was ingested by marine animals, which were subsequently consumed by humans.

"We need research institutes to collaborate with each other to facilitate a comprehensive study on mercury pollution in Indonesia," says Inoue. "Such cooperation will enable monitoring of mercury concentrations in gold mining and the impact of this environmental pollutant on local people."

Explore further: Politics divide coastal residents' views of environment

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study says Natives most affected by Amazon mercury

Sep 10, 2013

A study of mercury contamination from rampant informal gold mining in Peru's Amazon says indigenous people who get their protein mostly from fish are the most affected, particularly their children.

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 ...

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.

Research reveals new challenges for mercury cleanup

Aug 06, 2013

More forms of mercury can be converted to deadly methylmercury than previously thought, according to a study published Sunday in Nature Geoscience. The discovery provides scientists with another piece of the ...

Recommended for you

Landmark fracking study finds no water pollution

54 minutes ago

The final report from a landmark federal study on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has found no evidence that chemicals or brine water from the gas drilling process moved upward to contaminate drinking water at one site ...

Politics divide coastal residents' views of environment

1 hour ago

From the salmon-rich waters of Southeast Alaska to the white sand beaches of Florida's Gulf Coast to Downeast Maine's lobster, lumber and tourist towns, coastal residents around the U.S. share a common characteristic: ...

Earthworms as nature's free fertilizer

5 hours ago

Earthworm presence in the soil increases crop yield, shows a new study that was published this week in Scientific Reports. "This is not unexpected," says Jan Willem van Groenigen, associate professor in the ...

A success in managed pressure drilling

5 hours ago

As one of BP's top 40 wells globally (and the only UK well qualifying for that category in 2012), the successful delivery of the Harding field's 'Producer North East 2a' well (referred to as PNE2a) was crucial to the business. ...

Passion for the natural world clears the waters

5 hours ago

A toxic legacy has hung over the picturesque northern NSW coastal hamlet of Urunga for almost 40 years. Although now obscured by dense vegetation, the forest of dead melaleuca trees at the edge of a wetland ...

User comments : 0