Illegal gold mines poisoning indigenous communities as Amazon is destroyed

Few will wear the gold that is destroying the rainforest, but many will live with the consequences - as ITV News US Correspondent Emma Murphy reports

Three years ago I flew across part of the Amazon to document the fires ravaging acres of forest.

They weren’t natural fires, they were fires set by man. A burning of the treasure nature gifted us all. Acres and acres set ablaze by those who wished to occupy protected land to build their illegal industries, graze their cattle, grow their soy.

Every blaze destroyed part of a forest upon which the world depends. A natural combatant in the battle against climate change quite literally going up in flames.

Those fires will come again, it’s a few months yet until fire season, but there is now a different menace and it is there 365 days a year, every hour of the day and night.

How concerned are the World Wildlife Fund about the expansion of illegal mining in Brazil? Emma Murphy reports live from Rio De Janeiro

The illegal mines have continued to operate.

A flight over the Amazon this year is a flight over a land scarred by the blazing orange clay of illegal goldmines. The waterways, once clear, are a milky shade of gold - such is the level of pollution from the mercury used to exploit from precious lands a precious metal.

Mercury contamination is now an everyday part of life for many in the region. A World Wildlife Fund survey found every one of the nearly 500 people tested to have some mercury in their bloodstream.

Neurological problems are believed to be the most common of the health issues doctors attribute to increased levels of mercury in the body and they are being seen in the community.

All countries must be part of the solution, says Mauricio Voivodic, Executive Director of WWF Brazil

During the pandemic the number of mines increased rapidly, now hundreds and hundreds are operating. Others are abandoned, the seams exploited and emptied but the environmental impact is far from over.

Around a half of Brazilian gold exports are believed to be from illegal mines and much of that gold finds its way to the British market. The UK is the third largest market, that’s why WWF want the British government to ban any gold that can’t be traced to legal mines.

What is mined goes around the world with its high price tag. The price tag for the communities who depend on the Amazon’s water is higher than the highest market rates.