Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is a traditional livelihood in Peru, providing much needed income for many impoverished communities. Currently, the prevailing method of ASGM in the country involves using large amounts of mercury to extract gold. These activities result in the release of tons of mercury each year, causing significant air, soil, and water contamination and severe health impacts on local communities. Without intervention and remediation, mercury contamination will continue to poison generations of Peruvians.
Under Peruvian law, the Government of Peru is required to remediate contaminated lands, according to specific guidelines and decreed standards. Under the new Minimata Convention, the Government of Peru is obligated to reduce mercury emissions into the environment.
Pure Earth is working to strengthen the capacity of the Government to do both, with a particular focus on reducing the adverse impacts of mercury and ASGM on the environment and local communities, and sustainably restoring affected natural resources. The project will assist the government to assess ASGM sites for contamination and degradation, develop community-drive remediation plans and strategies for alternative livelihoods and mercury-free ASGM practices, and conduct remediation and rehabilitation of contaminated and environmentally degraded ASGM sites.
The project will:
- train at least 15 government officials in environmental and health assessment methodologies, mercury-free ASGM practices and mercury remediation;
- raise the awareness of at least two to three communities about the dangers of mercury and mercury use in ASGM;
- develop two to three community-driven remediation plans and alternative livelihood strategies;
- assist at least 200 miners to convert to mercury-free practices or other livelihoods; remediate one mercury-contaminated and environmentally degraded ASGM site;
- and reduce mercury levels in soil and human health exposure risk to mercury by at least 75% at the remediation site.
In addition, the project will result in economic benefits to the miners who convert to mercury- free practices, in the form of higher gold yields and the elimination of the need to purchase mercury. This will contribute to poverty reduction and lead to improved working and living conditions for miners and traditionally marginalized communities. The target communities will be able to make informed decisions about the sustainability of their livelihoods (education/awareness raising about the dangers of mercury use in ASGM and alternative livelihood practices, including mercury-free ASGM methods). The communities will gain voice in environmental decision-making that affects them (active participation in stakeholder groups, and the development and implementation of remediation plans and alternative livelihood strategies). Furthermore, as economic incentives provided are a powerful motivator for miners to adopt mercury-free practices, it is expected that these practices will self-replicate. Ultimately, the project will strengthen the capacity of the Government of Peru to replicate remediation of contaminated soil at other sites.
Initial site assessments have been completed as well as government trainings in environmental assessment. Two sites have formally agreed to participate in the project (Ollachea in Puno and Laberinto in Madre de Dios), and detailed evaluations have been completed there. Remediation plans for these sites will be designed in the upcoming months. Mercury-free methods for ASGM have been demonstrated by miners from the Philippines. Some local miners will be trained to become teachers.
From The Pollution Blog: