Mercury pollution rises in Peruvian forests

(ORDO NEWS) — Ecologists have recorded a sharp increase in the concentration of toxic mercury compounds in the soil and groundwater of Peruvian forests. This is due to the spread of illegal gold mining in the Andes. The description of the study was published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

“The forests of the Amazon absorb a huge amount of toxic mercury compounds that enter the atmosphere due to illegal gold mines.

Together with vegetation, this mercury enters the body of local birds and other animals, and its concentration is ten times higher than the norm for living organisms,” she said. Jacqueline Gerson from Duke University (USA), who participated in the study.

The area of ​​Amazonian forests has continued to decline rapidly in recent years as a result of deforestation. A very large part of these cuttings are not industrial enterprises, but individual farms and illegal mines, for the construction of which their owners clear a large area.

Gerson and her colleagues were interested in how the construction of illegal mines affects the environment in the Peruvian part of the Amazon, where many illegal gold mines have appeared in recent years. To do this, scientists went to the foothills of the southern Andes near the border of Peru, Bolivia and Brazil.

Toxic Amazonia

The scientists measured mercury levels in samples of leaves, water, soil, bird feathers and animal tissue found in the vicinity of these mines. The interest of environmentalists in mercury is due to the fact that illegal miners use it to extract gold from river sediments and gold-bearing rocks.

During the roasting of ore, a significant part of the mercury escapes into the atmosphere with smoke. This makes this gold mining method one of the dirtiest ways to extract the precious metal from ore or river sand.

As Gerson and her colleagues found, a significant portion of these emissions do not enter the atmosphere, but are absorbed by the leaves of local trees.

In particular, measurements showed that in some parts of the Amazonian forests, the concentration of mercury on the surface of tree leaves and inside their tissues was ten times higher than the norm.

Similarly, the proportion of compounds of this metal in the feathers of local birds and in the body tissues of animals was from 3 to 12 times higher than in other animals that lived at a great distance from the mines.

Mercury pollution, as scientists suggest, has already had a negative impact on the livelihoods of local birds. In particular, the typical number of their chicks has decreased by about 30% in recent years.

This indicates the need to develop measures as soon as possible that would help convince local residents not to mine gold in this way, the researchers concluded.

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