The BBC News article published today entitled ‘How mercury poisons gold miners and enters the food chain’ written by Linda Pressly, follows the story of small-scale gold miners in Kereng Pangi, Indonesia who are poisoning, with mercury, not only themselves, but also the land they depend on.
Mercury might be illegal, but it is also very useful in the mining process. Mercury forms an amalgam with gold and makes the extraction process from rocks and soil easier. Gold buyers then smelt the mercury till it evaporates leaving pure gold. Smelters are most likely to get ill as they inhale mercury daily. The poisonous neuro-toxin causes permanent damage to the cerebellum, the part of the brain which coordinates movement and muscles.
Mercury poisoning was first recognized after industrial dumping of the heavy metal into Minamata Bay in Japan. Find out why Minamata disease was such a health problem for Japanese babies. Investigate where else mercury poisoning is an issue.
For more details read the BBC News article here and to find out about the geography of mercury poisoning look on the Blacksmith Institutes website here.