Alarming Levels of Mercury are Found in Old Growth Amazon Forest


Via Flickr

Simone Garza | January 28, 2022

Currently, there are extreme levels of mercury that have been found in Madre de Rio regions of Peru. The canopy located in this region is known to uphold abundant biodiversity. The process of mercury being released into the air, is by burning coal that contains a threatening neurotoxin for both humans and animals. The mercury has been released in the air from miners looking for gold near riverbanks.

Once it is released into the air, the particles can lay on leaves such as dust and washed into the forest floor by rain. The absorbed mercury in the leaves is then transferred up to the song bird’s food cycle, revealing levels that are two to 12 times higher in proportionate sectors that are distant from mining activity. Mercury consumption for birds can impact their ability to sing, navigate, and even lay fewer eggs. This research has been published in the journal called Nature Communications. 

Remaining mercury particles can be absorbed in the leaves tissue. Mercury can also be threatening for aquatic systems. Mercury can transform into methylmercury, a very hazardous form of poison. This results from bigger fish eating on smaller ones, as the mercury builds up to the food web.

This is the cause of doctors strongly recommending pregnant women to prevent consuming predaceous fish like shark, known as swordfish and king mackerel. In the Madre de Rios Region, illegal acts of gold mining have increased. Illegal miners tend to swath areas of the jungle, straining massive amounts of topsoil to find any size of gold. Without adequate help, it could take 500 years to repair. In 2016, the government had declared a health emergency following the report of 40 percent of people in 97 villages that had alarming levels of mercury in their systems.

This specific type of gold mining done in Peru is called small-scale gold mining. This happens in approximately 70 other countries, also resulting in close to 20 percent of global gold production. 

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