Study finds that mercury used in small-scale gold mining caused mercury levels above WHO limits in community members.
More than half of the members of the Wayana indigenous communities of Apetina and Anapayke in southeastern Suriname have mercury levels above World Health Organization’s recommended limits, due to small-scale gold mining in the area, according to a research article by the Suriname Indigenous Health Fund and University of Washington-Seattle.
Fifty-eight percent of community members who submitted hair samples to researchers had mercury levels above the safety limit of 10 micrograms per gram. The average was 14 micrograms, though some reached 28.
“In this study the Wayana communities of Puleowime (Apetina) and Kawemhakan (Anapayke) in Suriname identified for themselves that they were at a high lifetime risk of adverse effects from exposure to mercury,” said the article, published by the Journal of Environmental and Public Health.
The report said that indigenous peoples in the interior of Suriname depend on their traditional territories to hunt, fish, farm, and for shelter, medicine and other necessities including clean water, but that many have been displaced from these lands due to the mining industry.
Mercury, used in gold mining to separate the precious metal from other materials, seeps into the water supply and soil.
Mercury “toxicity causes irreversible damage to the environment and to the health of the general population living in the region where mining occurs,” said the study.
These damages are already manifesting themselves in the local population’s health, according to the researchers, who have been studying the issue since 2007.
“Among participants in Puleowime, 12 percent reported feeling numbness in arms, fingers, or toes,” it said. “In Kawemhakan, that number was higher at 36%. Three women with hair mercury levels between 25 and 30 micrograms per gram requested a health assessment. All complained of headaches and pain and tingling in their hands and feet.”