Mercury Phaseout

© Pete Oxford

Mercury contamination, due to irresponsible artisinal and small-scale goldmining, is one of the biggest health threats to local communities. Humans mainly ingest the mercury through fish in contimated waters that contain high concentrations of the most toxic form of merucy: methylmercury. Methylmercury leads to serious health problems in humans, such as neurological disorders, cancer and impotence. Mercury exposure increases the risk of children born with mental and physical abnormalities in pregnant women.

Several studies in the Guianas show that fish in heavy gold mining areas are unfit for human consumption, due to the high level of mercury. Samples of human hair also show that people living in goldmining areas have high levels of merucy in their body. In 2020, scientists from WWF-Brazil and three Brazilian research institutes found startling levels of mercury in more than 400 fish collected in five regions of Amapa, on the border with French Guyana. Nearly one-third of the fish had such high levels of mercury caused by illegal mining that they were dangerous for human consumption.

Mercury Contamination

An estimated 40,000 artisanal, small- and medium-scale miners work in the Guianas. They add mercury to attract tiny pieces of gold from the ore. This toxic spills in waterways in large quantities and has been found widely in fish on which local communities rely for their livelihoods

© Roxroy Bollers / WWF-Guianas


What We Are Doing

© Michael Goldwater

WWF-Guianas has recommenced its work in the Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining sector. We started a strategic relationship with the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) and facilitated their formal engagement in Suriname and Guyana with the gold mining sector. ARM now has two experts from the region working out of our Suriname and Guyana offices. With their support we have started working on our Guianas Mercury phase out initiative in support of the countries’ commitment to implement the Minamata Convention. We have also moved forward with our strategic relationship with WWF-France in the mercury phase out programme through signature of a funding agreement, “Supporting mercury phase-out in the Guianas”.




Dangers of Mercury to Nature and People

The health of our environment (rivers, freshwater systems and the unique biodiversity of our green lands) is critical to maintaining good health and wellbeing. This video addresses the impacts of the use of mercury used in gold mining and steps we must take to protect ourselves and the environment.