"A boom in small-scale gold mining in Bolivia has raised concerns about pollution from mercury used in the mining process. Researchers are citing the health impacts on downstream villages, but the government has yet to act to stem the widespread use of the highly toxic chemical.
Across Bolivia, even in protected areas recognized by the United Nations for their diversity of wildlife, more than 1,000 artisanal mining operations are razing trees, diverting waterways, and reshaping the land in their search for gold. While miners are making a living, though, they are also dispersing mercury through the air, water, and soil. Their use of mercury has helped propel Bolivia to become the world’s biggest importer of the toxic substance.
The Minamata Convention is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the effects of mercury, considered by the World Health Organization to be one of the top 10 chemicals of greatest public-health concern. The treaty is named for Minamata Bay, Japan, where industrial dumping of mercury in the 1950s and ’60s led to widespread birth defects, neurological problems, and deaths as people consumed tainted fish. Like most South American nations, Bolivia signed the convention, which came into effect in 2017 and requires countries to develop a national action plan to reduce and, where feasible, eliminate mercury use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining. But unlike other nations, Bolivia has done almost nothing to regulate the import or use of mercury."
Thomas Graham reports for Yale Environment 360 December 8, 2022.