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Informal gold mining and mercury pollution in Brazil

Listed author(s):
  • Biller, Dan*DEC
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    The Amazon region has been responsible for a major share of Brazilian gold production in recent years. The region has witnessed a sizable gold rush comparable only to the California gold rush last century. The gold rush has spawned a powerful informal mining sector and has attracted many people - some who have come to the region in search of wealth and some who were already there but were displaced from other, unsuccessful economic activities. What these people encounter at the mining sites are dreadful living and working conditions. Gold mining also causes substantial environmental problems, which may persist whether gold deposits do or not. The author discusses the environmental effects of gold mining in the region, focusing on mercury pollution. Mercury, an important input in gold extraction, is being discharged into the atmosphere and the rivers at alarming rates. The environmental costs of the present extraction, is being discharged into the atmosphere and the rivers at alarming rates. The environmental costs of the present extraction technology will be faced primarily by future generations, because of natural chemical processes. Although removing the mercury already discharged from the Amazonian environment may be an enormous task, at least future discharges should be curtailed through the use of appropriate technology, environmental education, and a combination of command and control measures and market-based incentives. The author describes the gold extraction process and the extent of mercury use and contamination. He analyzes key elements of the environmental problem, especially the informal miner and the fish economy. Finally, he suggests a combination of command and control regulations and market-based incentives adapted to the informal gold mining economic environment. He emphasizes the need for an education campaign about the perils of using mercury and the availability of more appropriate, and inexpensive, alternative extraction technologies.

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    Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 1304.

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    Date of creation: 31 May 1994
    Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1304
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    1. Vosti, Stephen A., 1990. "Malaria among gold miners in Southern ParĂ¡, Brazil: Estimates of determinants and individual costs," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 30(10), pages 1097-1105, January.
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