We’ve known for at least 200 years that mercury is a poisonous metal that causes horrific health problems, and even death. Yet, this critical information isn’t being made available to many of the people who are exposed to the highest levels of mercury.
Artisanal gold miners, often poor and operating illegally, use mercury to separate small amounts of gold from crushed rock. The mercury-gold mix is then heated over open fires to vapourise the mercury, leaving behind pure gold.
This dangerous method of small-scale gold recovery is happening right now in many countries, including Papua New Guinea. And often the fires used to evaporate mercury are also used for cooking and are located inside homes. Short of eating it, it’s hard to imagine a more effective way of ingesting mercury. Despite full knowledge of the hazards of this activity, and the dozens of cases of mercury poisoning seen at the local hospital, the PNG government has failed to educate artisanal gold miners about the risks they are taking.