Poisoned by the dirty gold


This project will investigate the working conditions in artisanal gold mines and the health damage caused by the use of mercury and cyanide in Bolivia and Peru. It will explain the difficulties, cross-interests, and alternatives.

  • €13,562 Budget in Euros
  • 2020 Final release date
  • 2 Round winner
  • 2 Locations
  • 4 Durations in months

This story deals with the problems of mercury use in artisanal gold mines. Mercury causes grave damages to health (neurological and development problems) but is however very much used to extract gold in artisanal, informal or illegal, gold mines. This is a general problem that exists in many poor countries over the world from Asia to Latin America and Africa, where human rights are not respected. The global economic crisis of 2008 had the price of gold climbing (400% between 2002 and 2012) and subsequently provoked a great development of artisanal gold mining all over the world, mostly illegal. This story focuses on a specific region of Peru, called Madre de Dios, located in the amazonian forest, because it is, in a way, emblematic of what happens in a lot of other regions of the world.

There is a gold rush in the years 2000 in Madre de Dios because of the economic crisis in Peru at that time and the correlative building of the transoceanic road. A lot of poor people went there, especially from the Andes, in order to work in gold mining in this region of the Amazonian forest because its soil contains a lot of gold. As a result, they destroyed the forest (around 100 000 ha) and spoiled the rivers and soil with mercury, which is used to agglomerate gold. And the situation is going on now. It impacts the biodiversity and especially the fishes eaten by people. But it also impacts the air because gold buyers in their small shops heats gold agglomerate, so as to evaporate mercury, which flows in the air. It is to day well known by world health organisation that mercury is dangerous for the health. But locally in Madre De Dios region, most of people are used to mercury use and don't consider it as dangerous for their health. And the market of dirty gold is organized as a drug traffic one with the involvement of some local and national politician. This story will describe the situation by interviewing scientists from Cincia (Centro de Innovacion cientifica Amazonica) (cincia.wfu.edu) that are working locally in Puerto Maldonado on mercury use and deforestation, doctors and inhabitants in order to explain how their daly life and health are impacted.

The situation is changing in 2019 because the peruvian government launches the operation Mercury 2019 in order to eradicate illegal mines and mercury use. This story will describe why and how this operation is especially conducted in Madre de Dios region in an illegal "town" called La Pampa, where the government sent the army and the police last february. There were 40 000 inhabitants, mostly minors, in La Pampa at the beginning of 2019 and there are only 2000 left : who is still leaving there ? Where are the minors gone ? What happened to the former indigenous living in the forests ? Who cares about people's health ? This story will explain the situation with the most precise informations possible, despite of a context, sometimes difficult for investigation. The objective is first of all to denounce health risks for inhabitants due to illegal and informal gold mine. Secondly it is to present local actions by scientists, NGOs and national actions by government to change the situation. Third it is to show that other ways of working without mercury use is possible.

Follow us and join the conversation