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U.N. report calls for the ban of mercury trade and its use in gold mining

  • South America accounts for 39% of this demand, and small-scale gold mining is a major driver of global mercury demand, according to a United Nations report on highly toxic metals.
  • Hair samples taken from indigenous communities in the Amazon region of Bolivia and Brazil showed mercury levels above the safe limits set by the World Health Organization.
  • Especially in Brazil, the use of mercury has increased with a boom in illegal mining that has been largely overlooked and in some cases even encouraged by the government of President Jair Bolsonaro.

According to recent reports, artisanal gold mining is driving a global demand for mercury, with 2,058 tons of the toxic metal polluting water, land and air each year. Mercury, short-term gold mining and human rights.

The report, presented by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Poisons and Human Rights Marcos Orellana at the United Nations Human Rights Council on 20 September, called for a ban on the mining, export, trade and use of mercury. I’m looking for in small-scale gold mining.

“An estimated 10 to 15 million people were directly engaged in small-scale gold mining in 2017, including an estimated 1 million child laborers and 4.5 million women.” said the report. “It has an annual market value of about $29 billion and produces up to 20% of the world’s gold supply, equivalent to about 500 tonnes, annually.”

Orellana, who teaches international environmental law at George Washington University in the United States, said demand for mercury used in small-scale gold mining is growing in South America (39%), East and Southeast Asia (37%), and Sub-Saharan Africa. (twenty one%).

Most small-scale gold mining in South America is concentrated in the Amazon. In Brazil, it has become “massive”. Small-scale gold mining in 2018 will cover 107,800 hectares (266,000 acres) in 2020, 94% of which will be in the Amazon, according to MapBiomas, a research group that tracks land-use change through satellite imagery. , overtook industrial mining.

The Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development (IGF) estimates there are over 450,000 artisanal miners. Garimpeiros, in Brazil. In the Yanomami Indigenous Reserve alone, he has more than 20,000 people operating illegally.

Small-scale gold mining not only destroys vast forests, but also leaves crater-like wastelands on the moon. The most devastating aspect to both miners and people around the world is the use of mercury to extract gold from ores.

Mercury, also known as mercury, is a liquid at room temperature. When heated, it evaporates into the atmosphere or is washed into rivers, lakes, and oceans, contaminating fish and entering the food chain.

A large-scale operation of illegal gold miners in the Uraricoela River in the Yanomami Indigenous Reserve in northern Brazil, where small-scale gold mining turned into a ‘large-scale’ operation. Photo credit: Bruno Kelly/Amazonia Real.

Minamata disaster

In the 1950s, mercury caused 1 of 20 types.th The city of Minamata, Japan, experienced one of the most infamous industrial disasters of the century. For years, petrochemical company Chisso dumped waste containing methylmercury into the local bay. This form of mercury, bound to bacteria, spiraled up the food chain and eventually caused widespread death, birth defects, and neurological problems among the local population.

The response to the disaster spawned the Minamata Convention on Mercury (MCM) in 2013. This convention aims to protect human life and the environment from mercury pollution. The convention, which was ratified by 128 countries, including Brazil, in August 2018, regulates the manufacture, import and export of mercury and products containing mercury.

“It’s time to turn off the mercury tap,” Lee Bell, a mercury policy adviser at the International Pollution Elimination Network (IPEN), said in a press release following the publication of Orellana’s report. IPEN is a global network of over 500 NGOs dedicated to ridding the environment of toxins and pollutants. It served as a primary source for Orellana’s report linking mercury, small-scale gold mining, and human rights.

“There is no good reason to mine mercury and sell it on the global market,” Bell said. “We know that almost all of it is directed at small-scale gold mining, depositing directly into the environment and polluting waterways, fisheries and poisoning communities. We must stop the international mercury trade immediately in order to

While the MCM has been largely hailed as a step in the right direction, experts say the treaty has many loopholes. Certain countries have requested exemptions from the use of mercury in products such as batteries, lamps, cosmetics, thermometers and dental fillings that use mercury amalgam.

Pollution in Bolivia

The European Union and the United States have banned mercury exports, but many other countries continue to benefit from trade.Bolivia in South America Major importers of mercury.

Up to 200 tonnes were imported into Bolivia in recent years, according to the Bolivian Documentation Information Center (CEDIB). Most of it is used for small scale gold mining not only in Bolivia but also in neighboring countries.

“Small-scale gold mining is spiraling out of control due to the high price of gold and the availability of new technologies,” said founding member of Reacción Climática, an NGO that aims to raise awareness of climate change and environmental degradation. said Carmen Capriles. Mongabay by phone from La Paz. “More and more gold is being won, and it is the indigenous people who will bear the consequences.

From 2019 to 2021 Reacción Climática contributed research.gender, chemicals, wasteIt includes a chapter on the use of mercury by artisanal gold miners working in Bolivia’s Beni River.

Capriles and her team took 65 hair samples from indigenous women in the Eyiyo Quibo and Portachuelo communities and found mercury levels between 3 and 32 parts per million (PPM). The maximum safe level set by the World Health Organization is 1 ppm, but recommended levels are up to 0.58 ppm.

“Contaminated mothers pass mercury to the fetus through the placenta,” said Capriles. “There is a significant risk that future babies will be born with neurological problems and birth defects.”

A gold miner operating a balsa (dredge) on the Madeira River in the Rosalino region of Amazonas, Brazil. Photo credit: Alberto César / Amazonia Real.

Brazilian Indigenous Mercury

There are no full-scale studies on mercury use and pollution in Brazil. But sporadic investigations point to an increasingly dangerous situation, especially since President Jair Bolsonaro’s government adopted a no-interference approach to small-scale gold mining.

In 2019, the Institute for Indigenous Research and Training (Iepé) participated in a survey in Amapa State, collecting fish samples from various locations in the Amazon State. Mercury was detected in all 428 samples, 28.7% of which exceeded 1 ppm.

In 2021, Yepe took 34 hair samples from women in the Vila Nova Municipality of Amapa and found that 68% had mercury levels above WHO safe limits.

“We have completed a survey of fish markets in 18 cities in the Amazon,” Iepé media coordinator Decio Yokota said in a video interview with Mongabay. “We are still analyzing the data, but our preliminary results confirm a trend for higher mercury levels in fish.”

In 2020, the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fioculus), a federal research agency for biological sciences, partnered with WWF Brazil to test samples from the indigenous Munduruk community in the state of Pará in the Amazon. They found that 60% of the participants had mercury levels above WHO limits.

Orellana reports that similar research into the Yanomami, an indigenous people of Roraima state, was severely impacted by small-scale gold mining on their territory, but was blocked by Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency, Funai. rice field. Under Bolsonaro, the agency adopted several measures deemed contrary to the interests of the country’s indigenous peoples.

Bolsonaro also issued a presidential decree in April 2019, just months after taking office, in which he abolished the National Commission on Chemical Safety (CONASQ) among hundreds of other multi-stakeholder councils. Did. Founded in 2000, his CONASQ was tasked with improving domestic chemicals management, including the implementation of the Minamata Convention. It consisted of his 22 representatives from the public, private and non-government sectors.

Experts say the legal use of mercury for dental applications is often misused to distribute mercury for artisanal gold mining. In February 2018, his IBAMA, the federal environmental protection agency, seized 430 kilograms (950 pounds) of mercury at chemical company Quimidrol in the southern state of Santa Catarina. According to IBAMA, over the past three years he sold 6.8 tonnes of the chemical, Chimidrol, was Brazil’s largest mercury importer. Officially, mercury was labeled as dental. But he IBAMA discovered that Quimidroit was using a paper company in the Amazon state of Mato Grosso to distribute metal to gold miners in the region. The address used by Paper Company turned out to be the location of a grocery store.

Iepé and Fiocruz provided input for the Orellana report, and Fiocruz also drafted a set of recommendations to address the increasing rate of mercury pollution. These include regular testing of hair samples from at-risk communities, mandatory notification of chronic contamination, establishment of primary care protocols and risk management plans for affected communities, and prevention of mercury contamination in fish. Includes adequate oversight.

A grain of gold after it has been processed using mercury. Photo credit: César Araújo / Amazonia Real.

“National Challenge”

On October 10, the Brazilian Scientific Association (ABC) released the following report.Mercury Pollution: Why Do We Need an Action Plan?The report said Brazil’s constitution prohibits mining on indigenous lands, but in recent years there has been a “systematic invasion of garimpeiros” “without the state doing its part” to uphold the constitution. points out that

The result is the death of indigenous peoples, environmental destruction, and widespread pollution of ecosystems by mercury, says the report.

We also need an updated mercury inventory, given that the latest mercury inventory was implemented in 2016 before President Bolsonaro and was published in 2019.

A preliminary study published at the CONASQ Working Group on Mercury in 2018 estimated that up to 221 tons of mercury were used in small-scale gold mining in Brazil.

Mercury emissions today could be much higher due to the explosion of small-scale gold mining under Bolsonaro.

The ABC calls mercury pollution a “national challenge” and calls for mobilization at all levels of government, the private sector, society and research institutions to implement some of the recommendations in its report. is requesting

This includes resuming Brazil’s active participation in the Minamata Convention, updating its mercury emissions inventory, replacing mercury-dependent products and processes with alternatives, and, last but not least, “all illegal mining.” including enacting a ban on

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Related reading:

Mercury Rising: Why Bolivia Remains the Center of South America’s Toxic Trade

Destruction of the Amazon, amazon mining, Amazon people, climate change, confrontation, deforestation, Causes of deforestation, environment, environmental law, gold mining, governance, indigenous communities, indigenous people, indigenous people, indigenous reserve, indigenous rights, land dispute, land grabbing, land rights, Mercury, politics, deforestation of the rainforest, Threats to rainforests, Threat to Amazon, united nations

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