Mercury poses health hazards in developing countries: UNEP

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Young children panning for gold along a mountain stream © Guy Oliver/IRIN

Exposure to mercury is increasingly becoming a health hazard in developing countries, according to new studies by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The Global Mercury Assessment 2013 reports that emissions of the toxic metal from artisanal gold mining have doubled since 2005 as a result of new and better information and rising gold prices.

UNEP says that parts of Africa, Asia and South America could see increasing emissions of mercury into the environment due mainly to its use in small-scale gold mining and the burning to generate electricity.

It warns that greater exposure to mercury poses a threat to the health of about 10 to 15 million people directly involved in small-scale gold mining in these regions.

UNEP estimates that three million women and children work in the industry.

The agency says that due to its rapid industrialization, Asia is the largest regional emitter of mercury accounting for just under half of all global releases.

The UNEP study says that accelerated action such as finalizing a global, legally binding treaty that promote the availability of low-mercury technologies help reduce demand for mercury.

Beng Poblete-Enriquez, United Nations.
Duration: 1'18"


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