How mercury poisons gold miners and enters the food chain

Minamata disease memorial at the Minamata Dise...

Minamata disease memorial at the Minamata Disease Municipal Museum, Minamata, Kumamoto, Japan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I seem to be missing seven days of blog!  Hopefully they’ll reappear as I add new posts.  In the meantime here’s a modern day mad-hatter story – mercury poisoning in the quest for gold to adorn our ears, necks, hands.  Not something I knew about until I read this story.  It makes you look at your rings in a new light.


The Price Of Gold

Quicksilver beads dancing,
jigging, prancing like children on tip-toe
on hot summer sands.

Mercury rising
vapourising like mists of the morning
off dew-lapped lands.

Vapour inhaling,
insidiously impaling the health of the smelters,
their lives in their hands.

Gold nuggets remaining,
glistening, sustaining the life-style
the wealthy demand.

Minamata aching,
quivering, shaking the rag-doll limbs,
poisoning the glands.

And the madness unfolds,
the iniquitous price of gold.




17th September 2013 – headline from the BBC

Notes:  “How mercury poisons gold miners and enters the food chain.”  About 15% of the world’s gold is produced by artisanal and small-scale miners, most of whom use mercury to extract it from the earth. In Indonesia, the industry supports some three million people – but the miners risk poisoning themselves, their children and the land.  Although mercury use in small-scale gold mining in Indonesia is illegal, miners still use it to extract gold from the rock or soil.  Smelters then burn it, and the mercury evaporates leaving the gold behind. But the fumes are highly toxic, which is why they often show more severe signs of mercury poisoning than miners who use it in the field.  Mercury is a neuro-toxin which affects the cerebellum, the part of the brain that helps you move properly, and co-ordinate your movements. Mercury also harms the kidneys and other organs, but the neurological damage it does is irreversible.  There are an estimated 10-15 million unregulated gold miners around the world, operating in 70 countries. Artisanal small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is the largest source of mercury pollution in the world after the burning of fossil fuels.  On the Indonesian island of Lombok, its potential for harm is multiplied because it is being used in conjunction with cyanide.  Cyanide helps to dissolve the mercury, and when the waste is spilled into paddy fields it binds with organic molecules in the environment, becoming methyl mercury. This is far more toxic – in Minamata, Japan, it was methyl mercury that poisoned thousands of people.


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