Gold Fever: The Madness of Gold
Since Brazil banished all mercury from gold-mining in 1986, many garimpeiros left Brazil to work in the forests of neighbouring Suriname, Guyana, French-Guyane, Venezuela an other countries along its borders. They invaded our forest and the land of the people of the forest, the Amerindians and the Marrons. Our government took no action to protect our territory, the forest and people so a Wild Wild West has started 25 year ago.
Thousands of Brazilian garimpeiros (gold miners) invaded our pristine forests and deforestation, prostitution, pollution with mercury became a horror for all that lives in our forests. With no protection of their forest, traditional respect for the forest slowly faded and locals started mining themselves making the problems worse. The knowledge and skills of Brazilian gariempeiros to bind fine gold dust with mercury was well developed and making lots of money soon convince many local people of the rich deposits gold in our interior and they tried to copy these advanced technics. Excavators, bulldozers, big waterpumps, big waterhoses, sluice boxes and lots of diesel and gold fever are the ingredients. Most local people who started mining lacked this knowledge and without good prospecting for the gold deposits, they started digging for gold at random. Land without gold are being destroyed and soon the scars in the forest along all creeks came bigger and bigger and are now widely spread and visible with satellite imaging as the nerves of a leave.
Pollution with mercury because mercury vapour is odourless and like waterdamp invisible. Millions kilograms of mercury have been used since, and part of this mercury came into the waterways -creeks, rivers, lakes when “washing” the gold ore with mercury. Mercury is heavier than water so it can be found in the sediments of these water bodies. When mercury is used to bind the small gold particles, it forms the well known amalgam what most people know as the filling in their molars. This amalgam needs to be heated to purify the gold. When heated the mercury in the amalgam vaporises fast and the gold is left behind because gold has a much higher boiling point. During heating, the more volatile mercury vaporises into the atmosphere as water would do when boiled. As waterdamp would condens into the colder air high in the atmosphere forming clouds and rain, this mercury also condenses into these clouds and comes down on the forest floor with the rain. Even though the amounts of mercury in waterdrops is very small, the wide spread and total amount of rain is big in a rainforest as we have in Suriname.
Our forest floor exist of a layer of humus and is slightly acidic. Together with tropical temperatures of 30C, the moist and bacteria, this is the forest floor is the perfect medium to convert this mercury into organic mercury. Sulfate reducing bacteria in particular, are responsible for this conversion. This organic-mercury now has the key to travel through the organic based cell membranes of living organisms. Now available for the food chain, this organic mercury comes into small organisms like bacteria, algae, waterbugs which in turn is food for small fish and other animals. These small fish with low concentration of organic-mercury, are being eaten again by predatory fish and the concentration of mercury grows the older these fish becomes. The buildup of mercury from bacteria to predatory fish is called the bio-magnification of mercury in the food chain. The higher in the food-chain the bigger the concentration of mercury. This is the reason why to avoid predatory fish in mercury contaminated areas and because the mercury spreads through the atmosphere the whole planet is being contaminated even the animals in the arctic regions like seals and polar bears.
All predatory fish in the big oceans have also elevated levels of mercury that can be harm full for consumers. Methyl-mercury is damaging many organs in our body like the kidneys but with this chronic poisoning via the food-chain it in particular the central nerve system is the target organ. Target organs are the organs that are being harms with a certain toxin. Scientist from the University of Calgary (movie) have proven that mercury targets the elongated cyto-skeleton of nerve cells. This cyto skeleton are long polymers of tubilines molecules (monomers). Mercury interferes with this connection in a way that the tubilines can’t connect anymore to form the polymers for the cyto-skelton. GTP is responsible for binding between the tubiline monomers and mercury competes with this GTP for having a higher affinity for the binding spot on the tubiline molecule, and the nerve cyto-skelton collapse like a row of domino stones.
Used mercury in this nerve collapse comes available again for the other binding disruptions and like a chain reaction our nerve system looses its nerve cells. We are born with billions of nerve cells in our brain and body, connecting all our organs, eyes, ears, touch etc. Our whole body is wired with nerve cells. When this system is damaged we go blind, deaf, lose control of our muscles or we lose our marbles. Chronic mercury poisoning will cause dementia on young age and the brain will shrink as it would in Alzheimer.(photo) Chronic mercury poisoning: When small amounts of mercury enters the body over a long period like when eating contaminated fish almost daily. These amount of mercury builds up slowly in the body and when reached a concentration of 10 µl Hg/g, will show direct symptoms as loss of muscle control, bad hearing, bad eye sight but also shrinked brains as Alzheimer disease in older people with dementia.
All these symptoms caused by chronic mercury poisoning pretend to be like familiar diseases that come with aging so many physicians will not even notice the cause and might give wrong prescription drugs. Patients with kidney failure caused by mercury poisoning will be treated either high blood pressure or diabetics drugs and dialyses will be needed. The younger we are the more susceptive we are for this mercury and babies will have mild to severe birth defects depending on the mercury concentration in the mother's blood during pregnancy. When the mother consumed mercury contaminated fish during her pregnancy or became contaminated by inhaling mercury for ex-sample when she live close to a gold shops where gold is being purified and mercury vapour comes into the air. 80 to 90% of all mercury vapour inhaled in the lungs is absorbed by the blood and will be available for the foetus. Only small amounts will damage the baby and can even cause microphelia like we know from sika epidemic in Brazil in 2016 where many babies were born with small (brains) heads.
Scientific research (foto Wip onderzoek) in that many places in Paramaribo where gold shops emit mercury vapour have shown mercury levels in the air exceeding the allowed WHO limits hundreds or even thousands fold.
Part of the mercury is washed away into creeks or rivers but most mercury is released into the environment when the amalgam is burned to purify the gold. The mercury vapours will spread through the atmosphere hundreds or even thousands kilometers away from where it is released. In Suriname with a tropical rainforest, most of this mercury is catched by the rain out of the air to be deposited onto the forest floor. Slightly humid and with lots of bacteria, our forest floor is the perfect medium to convert elemental mercury into organic mercury. It starts in low concentrations of mercury in raindrops, but soon this organic-mercury will build-up into small fish and when these are eaten by predatory fish, this build-up of organic mercury will be even higher. We call this bio-magnification of mercury in fish.