Gold rush mercury threatens residents

LIMA, Peru — 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 population segment most vulnerable to mercury poisoning 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 mercury levels increased in 10 of 11 fish species 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 mercury contamination, 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.

More in Local News

Lake Stevens man shot by deputies reportedly was suicidal

The fatal shooting is the latest incident where someone apparently wanted police to fire.

Man suspected of robbing Rite Aids

Mill Creek police released a sketch Monday evening of the suspect.

Teen charged with murder in shooting over car

A Lynnwood teen has been charged with second-degree murder for… Continue reading

Police looking for Lynnwood bank robber

The robber did not flash a weapon to the teller at a U.S. Bank.

Here’s how much property taxes will rise to pay for schools

The owner of a $350,000 home is looking at a property-tax hike of nearly $300 this year.

Everett man accused of causing his baby’s brain damage

He told police he shook his son to get him to stop crying, and the boy slipped out of his hands.

At one point she dropped out; now she’s graduation-bound

Anita Bradford-Diaz has had her share of setbacks, but they only seem to increase her motivation.

Mayor, others break ground on low-barrier housing in Everett

Somers: The complex is expected to save lives and “really shows the heart of this community.”

Employee threats caused lockdown at Arlington elementary

Arlington Police said all students and staff were.

Most Read