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A Toxics-Free Future

Minamata Disease

A small mine on Sumbawa. Miners often dig for ore on land without permission or government permits. Credit...Adam Dean for The New York Times

New York Times - Hidden Cost of Gold

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CIDAHU, Indonesia — Thousands of children with crippling birth defects. Half a million people poisoned. A toxic chemical found in the food supply. Accusations of a government cover-up and police officers on the take.

This is the legacy of Indonesia’s mercury trade, a business intertwined with the lucrative and illegal production of gold.

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It is now more than 60 years since the Minamata disease manifested affecting many people and leading to the deaths of many more. Minamata disease is a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning.

Photo Credit: Global Environment Facility. Artisanal small-scale gold mining is responsible for up to 35% of anthropogenic mercury emissions.

The tragedy of Minamata may be a thing of the past for many, but as the world unites to take action on mercury pollution the dangers remain all too real.

At first it was a mystery. Three young girls stricken with an unknown disease in April of 1956, slurring their words, struggling to walk and suffering unexplained convulsions. Soon there were eight patients. By October there were 40 – 14 of whom had died. And the numbers kept growing.

Quezon City.   Civil society groups have reiterated their support for actions that will prevent mercury contamination of the ecosystems and the resulting human exposures to this potent neurotoxin.

At a seminar held today to commemorate the 60th anniversary since the official identification in 1956 of the Minamata disease, a neurological problem linked to the consumption of seafood contaminated with methylmercury, the EcoWaste Coalition and other public interest groups rallied all sectors to back measures aimed at curbing mercury emissions, releases and exposures.

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