LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has declared a 60-day emergency in a remote part of the Amazon to curb high levels of mercury poisoning from rampant illegal gold mining, the country’s environment minister said on Monday.
A growing number of studies show that residents of the Madre de Dios region near Peru’s southeastern border with Brazil have dangerous levels of mercury in their bodies, Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal said in announcing the move.
Tens of thousands of illegal miners who dredge for gold in the rivers and wetlands of Madre de Dios use mercury to separate ore from rock, often handling the neurotoxin with their bare hands and inhaling its fumes when it is burned off.
The miners dump about 40 tonnes of mercury into Amazonian rivers per year and have destroyed more than 100,000 hectares (247,105 acres) of rainforest in Madre de Dios, according to the environment ministry.
“Forty-one percent of the population of Madre de Dios is exposed to mercury pollution,” Pulgar-Vidal said in a news conference.
Indigenous and rural communities are particularly vulnerable because they rely heavily on river fish for protein, the minister added.
As part of its emergency declaration, the government plans to provide uncontaminated fish to residents in Madre de Dios. It also intends to set up mobile health clinics and monitoring centers and implement educational campaigns, Pulgar-Vidal said.
Humala, who will leave office when his five-year term ends on July 28, launched a crackdown on wildcat gold mining in Madre de Dios in 2012, but miners have continued to expand into nature and indigenous reserves.
Reporting by Mitra Taj; Editing by Paul Simao