IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Informal gold mining and mercury pollution in Brazil


  • Biller, Dan*DEC


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Biller, Dan*DEC, 1994. "Informal gold mining and mercury pollution in Brazil," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1304, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1304

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    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.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Biswas, Amit K. & Farzanegan, Mohammad Reza & Thum, Marcel, 2012. "Pollution, shadow economy and corruption: Theory and evidence," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 75(C), pages 114-125.
    2. Blackman, Allen, 2000. "Informal Sector Pollution Control: What Policy Options Do We Have?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 28(12), pages 2067-2082, December.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1304. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Roula I. Yazigi). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.