Amazon Indians at risk in mercury poisoning crisis - The Ecologist
Exposure to mercury is highly dangerous and can be fatal. Its effects include kidney malfunction, respiratory failure and acute anemia.
Tribal peoples are especially susceptible to mercury poisoning due to the large amount of illegal gold mining taking place on their lands. Mercury is used to coalesce fine alluvial gold particles into an amalgam and separate it from sand and pebbles.
The biggest problem is that miners ’burn off’ the mercury on open fires to leave pure gold behind. But that vaporised mercury quickly condenses from the air to contaminate the environment.
As Amazonian tribes eat a lot of fish, they are particularly at risk of mercury poisoning due to the high concentrations of mercury often found in this food source. Furthermore, discriminatory attitudes towards tribal peoples mean that little to no action is taken to control the contamination.
In Peru, 80% of a Nahua community have tested positive for high levels of mercury poisoning. 63% of those affected are children and one child has already died displaying symptoms consistent with mercury poisoning.