Illegal Guianas gold miners use lots of mercury – WWF

Welcomes France-Brazil pact

A major problem in gold mining in the Guianas is that migrant miners frequently use and release mercury for the amalgamation of gold particles endangering the health of persons, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says as it welcomed the signing of a pact between Brazil and France recently.

The bilateral agreement, which was signed on December 23 last year in Brasilia, Brazil by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Brazil’s Head of State, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is one of cooperation in the fight against illegal gold mining in the Amazon.

In welcoming the agreement, which according to the WWF, will assist in providing concrete answers to “one of the most important socio-environmental problems affecting the region of the Guiana Shield (Northern Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana)”, the conservation organization noted that there are significant flows of gold seekers between the Amazonian countries of the Guiana shield.

In a release, the WWF stated that rumours about miraculous gold veins cause the displacement of thousands of people from one country to another and since the late 1990s and the rising price of gold, those migrations are becoming stronger and stronger. “Most of the migrants are coming from Brazil from where they have immigrated clandestinely. For example, in French Guiana, more than 10,000 garimpeiros are working illegally. In Suriname and Guyana more than 30,000 garimpeiros are active in each country, most of them illegally. Despite the recent actions to control the illegal mining launched by the French and Brazilian governments, the lack of effective trans-border cooperation failed to control these illegal operations”, the release stated.

The WWF said that the major problem is that the migrants are frequently using and releasing mercury for the amalgamation of gold particles and the organization pointed out that to produce 1 kg of gold, illegal miners use at least 1 kg of mercury, endangering their health, and that of the local people living nearby. “The neurotoxic effects of mercury are well known. Due to the naturally high content of mercury in the Amazonian soil, any additional direct human injection of mercury becomes an unbearable threat to human health, as well as to the forest and water ecosystems. WWF estimates that each year 30 tons of this poison are discharged into the natural environment of the Guianas”, the release declared.

It said that the agreement signed between France and Brazil is particularly important because it aims at reducing the heavy impact of illegal mining in protected areas located at the border of Brazil and French Guiana. The WWF stated that while the two countries have chosen to protect large portions of their territories and its Amazonian biodiversity through the Tumucumaque Mountains National Park and the Amazonian National Park in French Guiana which together encompass more than 6 million hectares of Protected Areas, up to now, those parks have mostly remained “on the paper” since their areas are violated by illegal gold mining activities. The organisation said that the Tumucumaque Mountains National Park is frequently pointed out as the supply base in Brazil of the illegal gold miners in the French bordering park. “During its last aerial survey, WWF discovered many illegal sites located in the heart of the French Park. The village of Camopi situated at the border, and whose residents had asked to be integrated in the heart of a protected area in order to limit their exposure to illegal gold mining problems, is still surrounded by illegal mining camps”, the release stated.

It added that the agreement is a step in the right direction in order to put an end to a daily ecological and human drama that undermines the Guianas. WWF is already promoting rich technical exchanges on protected areas management in the entire Guianas region. It will actively follow the implementation of the agreement in the following months and years, the release asserted.

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