Mercury Poisoning in the Amazon

French Guiana, a French territory in the Amazon basin, spreads over 90,000 square kilometers. Ninety-seven percent of its land is covered with tropical rain forest, one of the last five virgin equatorial forests remaining in the world.

In the last 15 years a “gold rush” has led thousands to work in small-scale gold mining operations. The gold diggers, mainly clandestine workers from Brazil, set up camps throughout the jungle, destroying the forest and ravaging the wildlife to augment their food supply. Far worse, they use mercury as part of the technical process to amalgamate the gold. Approximately 10 tons of mercury is released into the environment each year. This mercury contaminates the rivers and is later ingested by the Amerindian communities through their consumption of poisoned fish. Their blood mercury level is nearly 3 times the maximum level recommended by the World Health Organization. Mercury poisoning ravages the nervous system and damages life beyond recovery for those who are infected. The French Scientific Center, the CNRS, has announced that a sanitary catastrophe of Minamata-like proportions will occur within the next 10 years if drastic actions are not taken.