Toxic levels of mercury coming from illegal gold miners in Peru's south eastern Amazon are being dumped in the jungle’s rivers, posing serious health risk to children, a new study by the Carnegie Amazon Mercury Project reveals.
Native communities, says the report, registered levels of mercury close to five times higher than what is considered safe by the World Health Organization (WHO), whereas people in urban areas had double the safe limit.
Children and women of childbearing age are the most affected by the toxic element, a direct by-product of artisanal gold mining.
Minors, regardless its ethnic background, registered more than double the safe limit (1ppm – parts per million). While youngsters in native communities showed mercury levels more than five times the threshold (5.2ppm).
Consumption of high levels of mercury during pregnancy it is documented to cause severe, permanent brain damage to the unborn child, as well as other issues, such as attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder-related behaviours in young children.
A previous investigation conducted by the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Global Ecology had already warned that most of the consumed fish species sold in the markets of Madre de Dios, the gold-rich Amazonian region that borders Brazil and Bolivia, had mercury levels well above internationally admissible parameters.
The truth is that, for well over two years, the Peruvian government has been trying to tighten the screws on illegal mining, playing a role in an ongoing battle between illicit miners, environmental activists and local authorities.
Despite the efforts, illegal gold production in the South American nation has increased fivefold in the last six years and it is estimated to provide 100,000 direct jobs in the country, 40% of which are in the Madre de Dios region.
The situation is mirrored in dozens of the countries, where gold is similarly mined and where the desperately poor often end up working in risky conditions.
According to Peru’s ministry of environment, the use of mercury and other toxic elements by illegal gold miners has already destroyed 18,000 hectares of the Amazon rainforest.
Peru is the world's sixth largest gold producer.
Image by Fotopedia Wiki Commons