Health, environment suffer in gold rush

RECORD high gold prices are driving a health and environmental crisis in the developing world, say researchers who used satellite images to study the growth of illegal mining in the Peruvian Amazon.

They showed 1900 ha of forest was lost to gold mining every year from 2006 to 2009 in the study region, outpacing deforestation caused by the expansion of human settlement. 

Importation of mercury for use in gold extraction has also surged, polluting waterways and entering the food chain through fish.

“The negative consequences to the environment and human health throughout the mining and drainage areas may ultimately prove to be catastrophic until prompt control and remediation steps are taken,” the researchers said.

PLoS One 2011, online 19 April