Landslide and emergency declaration shines light on problems of illegal mining
The mining industry has made exceptional strides in improving the safety conditions at mine sites around the world, yet less regulated and illegal mining operations continue to plague the industry with accidents and fatalities.
Two incidents in May, one in China and the other in Peru have served as reminders of how dangerous and harmful illegal mining can be.
In northern Myanmar, at least 12 people who were picking over scrap piles of large-scale jade mining operations were killed when the hillside collapsed in a landslide. The landslide came after heavy rainfall in recent days. Twelve bodies had been recovered, but as many as 100 people were feared missing, said U Tin Soe, a member of Myanmar’s lower house of Parliament from the Hpakant area, the center of jade mining in Kachin.
In Peru, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has declared a 60-day emergency in a remote part of the Amazon to curb high levels of mercury poisoning from rampant illegal gold mining, the country's environment minister said.
Reuters reported that a growing number of studies show that residents of the Madre de Dios region near Peru’s southeastern border with Brazil have dangerous levels of mercury in their bodies, Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal said in announcing the move.
Humala, who will leave office when his five-year term ends on July 28, launched a crackdown on wildcat gold mining in Madre de Dios in 2012, but miners have continued to expand into nature and indigenous reserves.
Tens of thousands of illegal miners who dredge for gold in the rivers and wetlands of Madre de Dios use mercury to separate ore from rock, often handling the neurotoxin with their bare hands and inhaling its fumes when it is burned off.
The miners dump about 40 t (44st) of mercury into Amazonian rivers per year and have destroyed more than 100,000 ha(247,105 acres) of rainforest in Madre de Dios, according to the environment ministry.
In Myanmar, many informal workers comb the waste piles from mining operations looking for jade that has been left behind. In November, about 120 such miners in the Hpakant area were killed in a landslide that engulfed a village of flimsy shacks and tents, the New York Times reported.