Press Release:
Yearlong Program Launches To Transform Chichiqueros Gold Mining Community In Peru’s Rainforest Into Mercury-Free Model

Project Led By Nonprofit Pure Earth,  With Support From Jewelry Company Brilliant Earth

New York, NY, January 2017– Pure Earth, an international nonprofit that works to identify and clean up some of the world’s worst polluted places, will begin teaching artisanal gold miners in Peru’s rainforest how to become mercury-free in an ambitious yearlong project beginning January 2017, supported by Brilliant Earth, the global leader in ethically sourced fine jewelry.

The Pure Earth team is working with miners from the Artisanal Miners Association of Huepetuhe, known locally as Chichiqueros. The community is located in Madre de Dios, an area that was placed under a state of emergency last year due to uncontrolled mercury contamination.

The project aims to transform the Chichiqueros community into a mercury-free model, allowing miners to earn a livelihood without poisoning their families and community or contaminating the environment through mercury pollution. The work will benefit the Chichiqueros mining association consisting of 400 miners who often work together with their families.

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(Photo: A meeting with the Chichiqueros mining community)

At its peak in 1998, Huepetuhe produced approximately 2% of the world’s gold. Today, mining activity has expanded to cover more than 100 square kilometers of land that was previously dense rainforest.

“We’ve identified artisanal gold mining as one of the top ten polluting industries in our latest report–The World’s Worst Pollution Problems: The Toxics Beneath Our Feet. It is the largest source of global mercury emissions, responsible for over 30% or about 1,400 tons of toxic mercury released per year, according to UNIDO,” says Richard Fuller, president of Pure Earth.

“The good news is that there are solutions. Artisanal miners do not need to use mercury to extract gold. We currently have projects around the world working with mining communities on implementing solutions. As miners learn new methods, they spread their knowledge. So we are working to create a domino effect, transforming one community at a time.”

Beth Gerstein, Co-founder of Brilliant Earth, adds: “Brilliant Earth’s mission is to create a more sustainable, transparent, and compassionate jewelry industry. Given that gold mining is one of the most environmentally destructive types of mining, we use 100% recycled precious metals in our collection of fine jewelry and offer a limited edition Fairmined Gold Collection. We’re proud to partner with Pure Earth to create sustainable change in artisanal gold mining. By training artisanal gold miners in the mercury-free Benguet method, we can reduce the health and environmental harms of toxic mercury while empowering miners through training and fair wages.”

From the Philippines to Peru

The project will include three training sessions in Huepetuhe beginning in January 2017.

The sessions are being led by Peruvian miners who were trained by Leoncio Na-Oy, a Filipino miner who rediscovered a traditional method of mercury-free gold mining practiced in his hometown of Benguet in the Philippines a century ago.

Over the past few years, Pure Earth has been working with Leoncio to test and teach the Benguet method to miners worldwide. He has also traveled with Pure Earth to teach the technique to miners in Bolivia and Mongolia.

While other technologies exist to extract gold without the use of mercury, many require the purchase of expensive equipment. The Benguet method does not require major investment in machinery or technologies, and is therefore accessible even to the smallest mining communities, with the potential of being easily adopted by many more artisanal and small-scale gold miners.

As one of the world’s largest producers of gold, Peru is taking steps to solve the problem of mercury pollution from gold mining. Peru has signed the Minamata Convention, an international treaty aimed at curbing global mercury pollution, which specifically addresses the use of mercury in artisanal gold mining.

The Chichiqueros of Huepetuhe

The Chichiqueros of Huepetuhe are an association of artisanal miners that do not have their own concession (mining license) to mine a particular piece of land. They work at sites that have already been mined by larger artisanal or small-scale mining organizations, picking through the tailings and working to find any gold that has been left behind. They obtain approximately two to four grams of gold per day.

Like most artisanal and small-scale gold miners, the Chichiqueros of Huepetuhe use toxic mercury to bind small bits of gold they find into an amalgam. They then burn the mixture, releasing toxic mercury into the air, leaving behind gold. The activities of the Chichiqueros are not confined to one area. They work at various sites that can spread out over a wide area. Therefore their impact can be considerable.

By going mercury free, the Chichiqueros hope to become formally recognized. This means that they will be able work without fear of being shut down, and without being exposed to toxic mercury poisoning, giving them a path to a safer, healthier future for their families.

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Contact: Magdalene Sim, mag@pureearth.org

About Pure Earth (formerly Blacksmith Institute)

Pure Earth’s mission is to identify and clean up the poorest communities throughout the developing, world where high concentrations of toxins have devastating health effects. Pure Earth devises cleanup strategies, empowers local champions and secures support from national and international partnerships. Interventions to mitigate these toxic exposures while protecting livelihoods have proven to be manageable, cost-effective, and eminently do-able. By partnering with and empowering local champions we clean up chemical and waste legacy toxic hotspots, prevent re-contamination and guard against future pollution. Visit www.pureearth.org and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

About Brilliant Earth
Brilliant Earth is the leading global retailer of responsibly sourced fine jewelry and a leading e-commerce jeweler. Founded in 2005 by Beth Gerstein and Eric Grossberg, Brilliant Earth is dedicated to creating exquisite fine jewelry while cultivating a more ethical, transparent, and compassionate jewelry industry. Each piece is handcrafted from recycled precious metals and set with beyond conflict free diamonds and colored gemstones that meet the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility. Additionally, Brilliant Earth donates five percent of its profits to help communities impacted by the jewelry trade build a brighter future. For more information on Brilliant Earth or to browse full collections, please visit www.BrilliantEarth.com.

Other Pure Earth mercury reduction projects in Peru:

In Photos: Teaching Artisanal Gold Miners To Extract Gold Without Mercury

Peru: Emerging From A State of Emergency In The Labyrinth

Notes From The Field: In Peru – A Path Of Gold And Destruction