Geneva, Switzerland - As many as 15 million men, women and children around the world suffer significant and potentially life-threatening human rights abuses from mercury used in small-scale gold mining, according to a groundbreaking report presented today by Marcos A. Orellana, the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights. Small-scale gold mining is the largest contributor to mercury pollution globally, and the UN report notes that mercury contaminated sites from gold mining and accumulated mercury pollution in the food chain already affects millions of people and may poison countless future generations.
Orellana’s report notes that “The most devastating aspect of [small-scale gold] mining, for the workers and for the global community, is the use of mercury to extract the gold from the ore… with grave consequences for millions of miners, vulnerable women and children, indigenous peoples, ecosystems and aquatic life.”
The UN report urges closing loopholes in the Minamata Convention, the global agreement on protecting human health and the environment from mercury pollution, due to significant gaps in how it addresses the mercury trade and the use of mercury in small-scale gold mining. Among other recommendations, the UN report today calls for amending the Minamata Convention to:
- End exports in mercury (effectively ending the international trade in mercury);
- End mercury mining in 10 years; and
- Prohibit small-scale gold mining as an allowable use of mercury, with immediate reductions and elimination of mercury in small-scale gold mining within 3-5 years under National Action Plans.