Unlawful Gold Mining Threatens Brazilian Amazon

Illegal gold mining in the rivers of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is on the upswing and could mean bad news for the environment. Thousands of poor small-scale miners, called garimpeiros, risk their lives to get at traces of gold at the bottom of rivers, sometimes employing equipment as basic as a garden hose for underwater breathing. They use mercury to bind gold dust into nuggets, which not only threatens their health but also pollutes the rivers and surrounding environment, though the extent of this pollution is in dispute. Brazil’s environment agency, IBAMA, is trying to tackle the problem but is running into difficulty, in part because many impoverished miners have no other means of supporting themselves and their families.