Mining for gold can conjure up quaint images of rolled up pants, a pan and sieve and the sound of water flowing over pebbles boulders and splashing against the rocks. In the Amazon, miners are more likely to be waist deep in polluted water laced with dangerous chemicals. Mining in the Amazon begins with detonating explosives on riverbanks and digging deep craters in areas cleared of forest. Mining the gold for just one wedding ring can damage a river forever as mercury and cyanide are released into the river along with twenty tons of sediment produced by blasting the riverbank. The pits left are often 30 feet deep. After the pit has been created miners use pressurized water to wash away the earth. Finally they drain the area using flat sieves that sift out tiny gold flakes. It is here that miners frequently use mercury or other dangerous chemicals to help separate the gold from the rest of the silt. The gold and much mercury bind in an amalgam making the gold easier to extract however some of the mercury remains and eventually returns to the waterway. In Peru, much of the rainforest being mined illegally. Estimates are that 20% or more of the gold coming from Peru is illegally mined. Local government officials are often corrupt and complicit, turning a blind eye to illegal and dangerous mining practices, unregistered mining concessions, and illegal mining on State and Indigenous land. Gold mining is largely unregulated throughout the rainforests where miners can quickly set up, blast riverbed, and extract gold, leaching toxic chemicals into the waterways before anyone knows they are there.
- Sulfuric Acid
- Nitric Acid
- Ammonium Nitrate
Did you know that more than 50% of the world’s gold comes from Indigenous lands?
Today, Indigenous communities are using drones to guard their territories and rapidly identify attempts to mine before they get underway.
Amazon rainforest prior to mining.
Amazon rainforest after mining for gold.
- Gold mining contaminates rivers and can poison watersheds, sometimes irreversibly.
- Acid Mining Drainage: explosions expose rocks to oxygen and water the newly exposed rocks leach acids into the water, this acid water is not only pollutes itself, it also leaches lead and other toxic elements from the riverbed.
- Toxic chemicals are released into the water killing wildlife and endangering people.
- Sediment silts rivers blocking passage for aquatic life and creating less oxygenated water that is more mosquito and disease prone.
- Peru’s informal miners combine to release 30 tons of mercury into the waterways.
- Mining operations often hire children and youth. Many of them come from displaced indigenous communities and have few alternatives to this dangerous work.
- Mining increases mercury load in those living close by. Many citizens living in the Madre de Dios region have 5 times the safe level of mercury in their bodies.
- Pregnant women and children are most at risk: mercury poisoning can cause loss of hearing and site, developmental delays, gastric illness and even death.
- Trees are cut to make way for roads, mining camps, and the site of the mining itself.
- Miners frequently can’t survive on their salaries and turn to illegal logging to supplement their income.
- As roads are created to transport the gold increased traffic, loggers and illegal settlers have an easy way to access previously pristine rainforest.
- As illegal miners are under increased scrutiny they go deeper into the forest to hide their mines spreading deforestation and toxic chemicals throughout the Amazon.