Peru: Illegal gold mining transforms rainforest into mercury-poisoned wastelandsTAMBOPATA, Peru (AP) — Decades of illegal gold mining have transformed large expanses of virgin Peruvian rainforest into pocked, denuded, mercury-poisoned wastelands.
Excavations to separate gold flecks from tons of earth have left holes big enough to swallow a half-dozen buses. Mercury, a neurotoxin used to bind t…he gold, pervades the local food chain, reaching humans through the fish they eat.
The ruined lands scar the southeastern region of Madre de Dios, a mecca of biodiversity whose natural marvels lure eco-tourists and where several tribes live in voluntary isolation.
Most of the destruction has been done by invaders from outside the region, though thousands of them have left in recent months as the government has cracked down on illegal mining, dynamiting mining machinery, dismantling brothels and cutting off gasoline supplies.
Illegal mining is the No. 2 cause of deforestation in Peru, after clear-cutting for agriculture, Environmental Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal said on the eve of the Dec. 1-12 U.N. climate conference that his nation is hosting.
“It is terrible for the nearly irremediable wounds it causes to the forest,” he said.
Image: Police guard the perimeter of a crater created by gold mining during an occupation of an illegal gold mining camp in Peru’s Madre de Dios region (c) Rodrigo Abd / AP