Lentis/Gold, Mercury, and Madre de Dios, Peru

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Peru's Mining Industry[edit]

Peru is located in western South America and has been experiencing positive economic growth since the new millennium. Before the year 2000, Peru was in a series of unstable political years due to militarism from the Military Junta[1]. Now ended, the country has established a powerful mining industry. Peru is home to large reserves of mineral wealth - Peru has a total of 5% of the world’s gold reserves, 24% of the world’s silver reserves, etc[2]. These riches in natural resources have allowed Peru to be: the third largest producer of copper, the sixth largest producer of gold, the second largest producer of silver, the fourth largest producer of tin, and the second largest producer of zinc. In 2017, Peru produced 162 metric tonnes of gold[3]. With the price of gold in recent years ranging normally from $1100 to $1300 per ounce, the total worth of 162 metric tonnes of gold is around $6.4 Billion USD. With less land coverage and population than world mining leaders such as China, the United States, Russia, and Australia, Peru has become a significant leader in the mining global economy. Much of this growth in mining has been in part by the government’s extensive list of policies to attract investors. In the next couple of years, Peru’s expects $59.5 Billion USD in investments[4]. Additionally, good business models implemented by mining companies and advance mining technology is facilitating a positive return in investment. Moreover, thousands of jobs have been created and the industry is now an essential contributor to the country’s gross domestic product. In 2017, Peru’s total GDP was $214 Billion USD[5]. The industry sector, in which the mining industry is located, was 36.3%. The agriculture sector was 7.5% and the service sector was 56.1% percent. Of the entire GDP distribution, the mining industry is approximately 12%.

Madre de Dios, Peru

Madre de Dios, Peru[edit]

Madre de Dios is a region of Peru located on the south-east side of the country, and it is partially covered by the Amazon rain-forest. Madre de Dios has a population of 92,000 people, making it one of the least populated regions of Peru, despite being one of the largest[6]. Madre de Dios is also not well developed, as seen in the image, which is a major cause of its 25% poverty rate. The majority of the industries in Peru are towards the Eastern half, so the main sources of income are cotton, coffee, Brazil nuts, and palm oil, but many people make a living through artisanal mining[7]. Madre de Dios is home to one of the largest artisanal gold mining industries in the world, which is a leading cause of mercury pollution and deforestation in the region.

Artisanal Mining[edit]

An artisanal miner is an independent miner who is not employed by a mining employee. There are approximately 100,000,000 artisanal miners globally, 500,000 of which are from Peru[8]. In Madre de Dios specifically, there are over 30,000 illegal artisanal miners, and most artisanal mining is small-scale gold mining done by impoverished individuals[9]. The illegal gold mining in Madre de Dios produces 360,000 ounces of gold per year, which leads to 30 to 40 million tons of mercury pollution per year[10]. Artisanal gold mining also leads to mercury poisoning in the residents due to the independent miners’ lack of proper equipment and protection.

Gold Mining Process[edit]

Artisanal gold mining

The gold mining process begins by digging up rocks from up to 70 meters underground and transport them to be processed[11]. The rocks are then crushed into pebbles, which are grinded into powder using a ball mill[12]. The powder then needs to be sluiced, where water is poured into the powder in order to concentrate the gold[13]. They pass this through a sluice box, which collects the gold particles. The miners then separate the gold from dirt and other minerals through amalgamation[14]. Typically using their bare hands, miners mix mercury into the gold particles in order to separate and retrieve only the gold, creating a gold-mercury amalgamation in the process[15]. Finally, the miners burn off the mercury from the collected gold particles, which releases toxic fumes[16].

Environmental Effects[edit]

Mercury is a toxic metal, so the utilization and disposal of mercury lead to significant environmental and health issues. The detrimental effects affect the entire environment, thereby harming all forms of life. At a high-level perspective, mercury first contaminates the sediments in impacted rivers. Then, all of the fauna, including vegetation and animals, in the ecosystem get contaminated. From another perspective, the technology in artisanal and small-scale mining requires the demolition of vegetation, particularly trees. Moreover, the environmental effects can be categorized into the contamination of mercury in the environment and deforestation.

Contamination of Mercury[edit]

As miners and residents of Madre de Dios come in direct contact with mercury, health concerns are rising[17]. The most affected region are those areas with significant mining efforts. Men and women in mining locations have been shown to have mercury levels higher than those of regions with less significant mining operations. The recommend mercury total is 1-2 ppm[18], however, studies from Madre de Dios reveal levels higher than the WHO’s recommendation. Through lack of education[19] and desperation for money, miners disregard their health and health of their neighbors. With close proximity to the Amazon, rivers are one of the main sources of food for residents. As the gold is separated from the mercury through use of heat, mercury particles are released in the air. The particles become part of runoff during precipitation and wash downstream into fish populations. The consumption of fish then enters the human body and causes negative effects on the human system[20]. Furthermore, inhalation of toxic mercury is damaging to the respiratory system[21]. Toxic fumes can easily spread, thus, all those in the vicinity are affected. As the fumes enter the body, mercury vapor enters the bloodstream and is transported to other organs. Mercury ingestion through various forms has been proved to greatly damage the kidneys and brain[22]. Muscle damage, learning disabilities, and even death are some symptoms of mercury contamination[23]. Mercury toxicity treatment such as chelation therapy is expensive so multiple cases have been recorded of mothers passing mercury to their children during pregnancy and breastfeeding[24]. The results are generational birth defects in children that result in greater costs for families already in difficult situations.

Deforestation[edit]

Deforestation

Artisanal mining requires logging and mining, which all cause deforestation. In 1990, it was estimated that 110,324 hectares in Madre de Dios has been deforested[25]. In 2010, it was estimated that 302,154 hectares in Madre de Dios has been deforested[26]. In other words, the observable effects of deforestation has tripled over 2 decades. The increase in deforestation can partly be explained by technology. Improving mechanization is facilitating the prevalence of artisanal mining. This level of deforestation means that numerous habitats are being destroyed, which leads to a loss in biodiversity. Some of these impacted forests are home to indigenous peoples; the forests are areas where these people diversity their way of life[27]. Because forests contain a high concentration of vegetation, they store carbon. Plants and trees require carbon dioxide to grow. Forests play an important role in the global carbon cycle by “absorbing carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, storing carbon above and below the ground.”[28] Thus, deforestation may lead to released carbon, which is a greenhouse gas. In addition, the uprooting of trees affect the structural integrity of the soils; in rainfall events, these soils will experience higher levels of erosion and release of mercury contaminated sediments into waterways[29].

Remediation Costs[edit]

The costs to remediate the detrimental effects caused by artisanal mining are significant. Despite this, the damage must be quelled to restore the environment and all living things within the environment. Moreover, efforts to reverse the damage can be broken down into two categories: deforestation and water quality. To tackle deforestation, the affected forest cover must be replaced and the soils must be decontaminated. In order to remediate the water, contamination from oil, mercury, and other metals must be removed. The World Wildlife Foundation and Macroconsult (2013)[30] found that the estimated cost of forest remediation per hectare is 93,200 soles. In addition, they found that the estimated cost of water quality remediation per hectare is 3.3 billion soles. How the remediation costs will be payed is an important question to explore. Pineiro, Thomas, and Elverdin[31] explored how the government can pay these costs. They found that focusing government expenditures only on the restoration of the environmental damage, “funded by a small tax on all mining production in the country, will not be enough to pay the costs.”[32] Instead, their analysis showed that it is necessary to tackle motivations of those who pursue illegal mining. The illegal mining operators must find employment in other sectors. In order to facilitate this, “the creation of a different source of income is a necessary condition.”[33] Pineiro, Thomas, and Elverdin[34] found that Madre de Dios is a region with high agricultural potential, where additional government investment would be valuable. By making the agriculture industry more productive, the government can effectively eliminate any incentive in artisanal mining by changing the economic structure of Madre de Dios.

References[edit]

  1. Angell, A. (n.d.). Peruvian Labour and the Military Government since 1968. Retrieved December 11, 2018
  2. Peru hosts 5% of world's gold reserves, 24% of silver. (2018, May 30). Retrieved December 11, 2018
  3. Thomson Reuters. (n.d.). GFMS Research and Forecasts. Retrieved December 11, 2018
  4. Overview of Peru’s Mining Industry. (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2018
  5. Santandertrade. (2018, October). PERUVIAN ECONOMIC OUTLINE Retrieved December 11, 2018
  6. The Only Peru Guide. Madre de Dios. (n.d.).
  7. The Only Peru Guide. Madre de Dios. (n.d.).
  8. Infographic: The true costs of artisanal mining. (2018, February 15). Retrieved from http://www.mining.com/infographic-true-costs-artisanal-mining/
  9. Amazon Conservation Association. (n.d.). Illegal Gold Mining in Madre de Dios, Peru [Brochure]. Author. Retrieved from http://www.amazonconservation.org/pdf/gold_mining_fact_sheet.pdf
  10. [napatv]. (2017, March 31). Illegal Gold Mining in Peru. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBDS3reoQw0
  11. Toxic Toil | Child Labor and Mercury Exposure in Tanzania's Small-Scale Gold Mines. (2018, April 18). Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/08/28/toxic-toil/child-labor-and-mercury-exposure-tanzanias-small-scale-gold-mines#
  12. Toxic Toil | Child Labor and Mercury Exposure in Tanzania's Small-Scale Gold Mines. (2018, April 18). Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/08/28/toxic-toil/child-labor-and-mercury-exposure-tanzanias-small-scale-gold-mines#
  13. Toxic Toil | Child Labor and Mercury Exposure in Tanzania's Small-Scale Gold Mines. (2018, April 18). Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/08/28/toxic-toil/child-labor-and-mercury-exposure-tanzanias-small-scale-gold-mines#
  14. Toxic Toil | Child Labor and Mercury Exposure in Tanzania's Small-Scale Gold Mines. (2018, April 18). Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/08/28/toxic-toil/child-labor-and-mercury-exposure-tanzanias-small-scale-gold-mines#
  15. Toxic Toil | Child Labor and Mercury Exposure in Tanzania's Small-Scale Gold Mines. (2018, April 18). Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/08/28/toxic-toil/child-labor-and-mercury-exposure-tanzanias-small-scale-gold-mines#
  16. Toxic Toil | Child Labor and Mercury Exposure in Tanzania's Small-Scale Gold Mines. (2018, April 18). Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/08/28/toxic-toil/child-labor-and-mercury-exposure-tanzanias-small-scale-gold-mines#
  17. Ashe, K. (2012). Elevated Mercury Concentrations in Humans of Madre de Dios, Peru. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033305
  18. World Health Organization. (2008). GUIDANCE FOR IDENTIFYING POPULATIONS AT RISK FROM MERCURY EXPOSURE
  19. Gonzalez, D. (2015). Mercury exposure and risk among women of childbearing age in Madre de Dios, Peru. Tropical Resources, 16-24.
  20. Gonzalez, D. (2015). Mercury exposure and risk among women of childbearing age in Madre de Dios, Peru. Tropical Resources, 16-24.
  21. Ashe, K. (2012). Elevated Mercury Concentrations in Humans of Madre de Dios, Peru. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033305
  22. Gonzalez, D. (2015). Mercury exposure and risk among women of childbearing age in Madre de Dios, Peru. Tropical Resources, 16-24.
  23. Gonzalez, D. (2015). Mercury exposure and risk among women of childbearing age in Madre de Dios, Peru. Tropical Resources, 16-24.
  24. ATSRD. (n.d.). Mercury Quick Facts Health Effects of Mercury Exposure.
  25. Recavarren, P. 2011. Proyecto REDD en Áreas Naturales Protegidas de Madre de Dios. Insumos para la Elaboración de la Línea Base de Carbono. Lima: Association for Research and Integral Development (AIDER)
  26. Recavarren, P. 2011. Proyecto REDD en Áreas Naturales Protegidas de Madre de Dios. Insumos para la Elaboración de la Línea Base de Carbono. Lima: Association for Research and Integral Development (AIDER)
  27. Asner, G. P., & Tupayachi, R. (2016). Accelerated losses of protected forests from gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon. Environmental Research Letters,12(9), 094004. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aa7dab
  28. USDA. (2010, October 15). Forests Absorb Carbon Dioxide.
  29. Piñeiro, V., Thomas, J., & Elverdin, P. (2016). The Agricultural Sector as an Alternative to Illegal Mining in Peru A Case Study of Madre de Dios. International Food Policy Research Institute,(01582), 1-36.
  30. World Wildlife Foundation and Macroconsult. 2013. Analisis Desde una Aproximacion Economica de la Mineria Aurifera y otras Actividades Productivas que se desarolla en Madre de Dios. Lima.
  31. Piñeiro, V., Thomas, J., & Elverdin, P. (2016). The Agricultural Sector as an Alternative to Illegal Mining in Peru A Case Study of Madre de Dios. International Food Policy Research Institute,(01582), 1-36.
  32. Piñeiro, V., Thomas, J., & Elverdin, P. (2016). The Agricultural Sector as an Alternative to Illegal Mining in Peru A Case Study of Madre de Dios. International Food Policy Research Institute,(01582), 1-36.
  33. Piñeiro, V., Thomas, J., & Elverdin, P. (2016). The Agricultural Sector as an Alternative to Illegal Mining in Peru A Case Study of Madre de Dios. International Food Policy Research Institute,(01582), 1-36.
  34. Piñeiro, V., Thomas, J., & Elverdin, P. (2016). The Agricultural Sector as an Alternative to Illegal Mining in Peru A Case Study of Madre de Dios. International Food Policy Research Institute,(01582), 1-36.