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Sun Dec 9, 2012, 11:13 PM

Stuart Leavenworth: In the rain forests of Peru, a modern gold rush poisons the environment

Stuart Leavenworth: In the rain forests of Peru, a modern gold rush poisons the environment
By Stuart Leavenworth, Editorial page editor
Published: Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1E
Last Modified: Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012 - 9:01 am

[font size=1]Stuart Leavenworth / sleavenworth@sacbee.com

Mud darkens a river in Peru's Madre
de Dios region of the Amazon rain
forest. Gold miners are breaking up
soil with hydraulic blasts, filling
streams and rivers with silt.
They're also using toxic mercury
to bring out the gold.[/font]

As our plane topped the Peruvian Andes, I looked out the window and caught my first view of the headwaters of the Amazon. The green canopy of the rain forest spread out in all directions. Yet on closer examination, I noticed the wilderness was marred by a checkerboard of cleared fields, scarred stream banks and rivers stained brown by polluted runoff.

Naive tourists that we were, my wife, Micaela, and I were starting a visit last month to the Madre de Dios region of southeastern Peru, near the border of Bolivia. Our destination was Tambopata National Reserve, a lush sanctuary that is considered one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. After landing, we traveled by boat up the Tambopata River, where we would spend the next three nights in rustic cabanas outfitted with mosquito nets and candles.

Our visit to Tambopata exceeded our wildest expectations. In just a few days, we saw rare monkeys, scores of parrots, macaws and other birds and had encounters with snakes, tarantulas, baby caimans, capybaras (the world's largest rodent) and many other creatures.

But we became quickly aware that this island of protected rain forest is under siege. Record-high gold prices have drawn thousands of destitute, would-be miners to Madre de Dios. In scenes reminiscent of California's Gold Rush, they are clearing forests, using hydraulic hoses to unearth ore from the exposed soil, and attempting to separate gold with globs of toxic mercury.


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Reply Stuart Leavenworth: In the rain forests of Peru, a modern gold rush poisons the environment (Original post)
Judi Lynn Dec 2012 OP
cprise Dec 2012 #1

Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 06:27 AM

1. K&R

Markets are enticing armies of poor people to tear up the land and toxify it to get gold, a mostly useless substance.

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