Bolivia, which uses mercury in small-scale gold mining, is responsible for mercury poisoning that is causing ailments in poor people.
FREMONT, CA: Bolivia has long been criticized for using mercury in small-scale gold mining, and evidence is mounting that mercury poisoning is causing ailments in poor people. Mercury is employed all over the country, including in mining ventures in the Andes cordilleras and on dredgers that collect gold from mud at the bottom of rivers. Toxic flows in Bolivia's river systems are caused by the uncontrolled disposal of mercury waste.
The Esse Ejjas, often known as people of the river, have lived as nomads for generations, hunting and fishing along the region's waterways. Men continued to fish after moving in Eyiyo Quibo, spending days traveling the river, camping along its banks, and teaming up to fill their long, narrow wooden boats with catfish and piranhas. Researchers have found fish to be heavily contaminated with mercury in cases around the world, including a study in the Brazilian Amazon published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2020, and believe fish-based diets in mining areas are causing increased mercury levels in indigenous people. This could explain some of Eyiyo Quibo's ailments.
Hair samples were taken from women at Euiyo Quibo, including Prada, by members of the Bolivian volunteer organization Reacción Climática in 2019. A total of 64 samples were collected from Euiyo Quibo and Portachuelo, two Esse Ejja communities’ located 380 kilometres (235 miles) north, for a study by the International Pollutants Elimination Network (Ipen) to assess mercury levels in people living near small mines in four Latin American countries: Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, and Bolivia.
The study, which was published in June 2021, discovered that women from the Esse Ejja communities, who were the only ones not living near a mine, had by far the highest mercury levels – on average nearly eight times the accepted threshold of one part per million (ppm), with one sample reaching 32.4ppm. The findings revealed a link between mercury levels in the body and the amount of fish consumed.