Toxic, to date

Thank you, gold rush

Published: Monday 30 June 2003

the dreams of the 'gold-rush' were shattered long time back, but they haunt us in the form of environmental contamination. Infants in the Brazilian Amazon are the latest victims to be identified. Researchers from the Evandro Chagas Research Institute, which is linked to the Brazilian health ministry, recently tested the blood of 1,666 babies born in three hospitals of the Itaituba city during 2002, and found that 1,000 of them had very high levels of mercury. Some of the children had 80 parts per million (ppm) of mercury in their blood -- much higher than the 30 ppm limit of the World Health Organization.

The mercury contamination in the Amazon is due to the gold mining activities. Mercury is used to isolate the gold from the ore in which it occurs. The country's department for mineral production estimates that around 600 tonnes of mercury was thrown into the river Tapajs, one of the biggest tributaries of the river Amazon, over a 10-year period. The mercury has entered the human foodchain through fish species like the tucunar and pirarucu, an integral part of the Amazon menu. Consumption of the metal is linked to many health problems, such as neurological disorders.

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