Gold has strong historic links to Peru, from the days of the Inca empire to the Spanish looting of South America's gold and silver hoard. And to this data, mining plays a big part of Peru's economy. But the country also has a large number of illegal gold mining operations which pay no attention to the environment and are in fact laying large parts of the Peruvian Amazon basin to waste. Nick Miroff reports more on this in a story in the Washington Post. Its an interesting look at both the depths that people will go to, in order to extract a small amount of the yellow metal and the swift and ruthless justice that is handed out to illegal gold mining operations by the Peruvian authorities.
The amount of damage being done to the environment, including the dumping of toxic mercury, by these miners is quite mind boggling. From the Washington Post article:
"In just a few years, they have laid waste to more than 120,000 acres, leaving behind Amazonian deserts of pestilent orange craters that bleed into the rivers when it rains."
"While the damage from illegal mining may not be deforesting the Amazon as fast as cattle ranching and agriculture elsewhere have, the destruction is multiplied by the miners’ poisonous little companion: liquid mercury.
They dump it on the sediments they collect to bond with the gold, then vaporize the mercury with torches. It is not a precise industrial process.
So toxic is liquid mercury that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends calling a hazardous waste specialist if a spill is larger than a broken thermometer. Exposure can cause neurological damage, birth defects, infertility and other health nightmares.
In Madre de Dios, gold miners are putting 30 to 40 tons of the stuff into the rivers each year, according to government estimates. It has leached into nature reserves, the flesh of widely consumed river fish and three-quarters of the adult hair samples tested in the regional capital, Puerto Maldonado."
These gold miners may be making big profits from this illegal mining and employing tens of thousands of the poor, but this is a huge problem.