Peru declared a state of emergency in 11 districts of the Amazon region of Madre de Dios (southeast), to detect mercury levels above those permitted in the population – as published in the Official Gazette. The change in the levels of this element stems from the intense artisanal mining activity in the area, which also destroys rivers and soils.
According to a report presented to the government by environmental authorities, it was detected “mercury contamination in the river water in hydrobiological species and population, with levels above the maximum permitted limits.” Different ethnic groups of the Madre de Dios department have high mercury levels in the body, “which causes serious health problems, chronic and complex – particularly in children and pregnant women,” the report says. The text adds that the problem is a result of “improper practices used by illegal and informal mining for the extraction and processing of gold alluvial.” Contamination is also in the air and fish, especially in the piracatinga species (Calophysus macropterus), part of the usual diet of the population of Madre de Dios. “We recommend not to consume this kind,” said a news conference the Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal. “The consequence of mining activity in Madre de Dios will follow in the next 80 years, and this should be tackled at the root,” said the minister. “Declaring a state of emergency implies health actions, mobile hospitals, bring food like fish not contaminated, among other things,” he added.
There are other sites affected in the Peruvian Amazon. Last March, it was announced that members of the Nahua ethnic group who inhabit the native community of Santa Rosa Serjali in Ucayali (southeast) also had mercury in the body. The presence of mercury in the blood can affect vital organs such as lungs and kidneys. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the element is among the ten most problematic for health.