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Impact of Mercury on Environment and Health

Studies show that small-scale gold mining has been proven to produce mercury affecting environment and health because most of the mercury used in smallholder mining would be released directly to the environment. At the beginning, mercury waste would pollute atmosphere, soil and local water flow, which in due time will endanger health of miners and surrounding communities.

Pursuant to Journal Science of the Total Environment Vol. 408 (2010: 713–725), based on study in Talelu (North Sulawesi) and Kerang Pangi (Central Kalimantan), some 17% of the creature population in Talelu is infected by mercury toxin. In Kerang Pang, the percentage is 32%. In addition, some 24% of the miners in Talelu and 43% of the miners in Kerang Pangi has been infected by mercury. In the meantime, some 55% of miners working directly in smelter amalgam in Sulawesi, and 62% of the workers in Kalimantan has been proven infected by mercury.

Following blood, urine and hair diagnosis, the disease generally suffered by the infected people is brain failure, such as ataxia, tremor, and movement disorders. Moreover, related to impact of mercury on the environment around smallholder mining, Yuyun said that the content of mercury in air in Poboya has reached the maximum limit. “Mining site Poboya is on a hill and the content of mercury in the air is 20-40,000 nano gram/mᵌ. However, the average content is only 5.000 nano gram/mᵌ. It has reached the maximum limit and surrounding people should have been evacuated,” said Yuyun.

For information, the tolerable standard of mercury content is 400 nano gram/m3 in Japan and 1,000 nano gram/m3 in the United States (US Environmental Protection Agency). If the content of mercury in air reached 1,000 – 10,000 nano gram/m3, the granted instruction is preparing for evacuation. Evacuation is a must if the content exceeded 10,000 nano gram/m3.
In the meantime, related to impact of mercury on health, Yuyun said that the impact is categorized as the worst if it has affected babies and children because it is potential to downgrade intellectuality. She frequently found a fact in areas around smallholder mining in Palu that miners suffered from serious skin disease allegedly attributed to mercury.

“We frequently receive information that miners suffered from injuries in their skin. Even though the cause has not been examined clinically, we may associate the disease is attributed to mercury,” said Yuyun, adding that her side has not examined clinically impact of mercury on health of people living around smallholder mining.

“Indeed, we have not conducted clinical test but in view of the existing incidents and reflecting from the previous mercury-related issues, it is not wrong if we start socializing the danger of mercury as from now, instead of waiting until one is victimized,”she said.

Based on the realities, Yuyun said that her side has cooperated with parties to overcome mercury issue. The cooperation is realized by, among others, a program called Development of National and Regional Approaches to Environmentally Sound Management of Mercury in Southeast Asia.