A Duke University-led study has found dangerously high levels of mercury and its more toxic chemical cousin, methylmercury, in soils, sediments and rivers near artisanal gold mines in the West African nation of Senegal.
“Nearly every sample we collected from in and around four mining villages contained mercury concentrations higher than regulatory standards set by the World Health Organization and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” said Jacqueline Gerson, a PhD student in ecology at Duke.
“In nearly all cases, the level of contamination was more than 10 times higher than these standards, with some cases up to 100 times higher,” she said. “This makes them some of the highest levels ever reported at artisanal and small-scale gold mining sites worldwide.”
Mercury poisoning can cause a wide range of health impacts, including tremors, muscle weakness, vision and hearing impairments, and loss of coordination and balance. In severe cases, it can lead to birth defects or death.
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Image via Jacqueline Gerson, Duke University