Where there is small-scale gold mining, there is mercury—and often mercury contamination. The Republic of Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country, is home to some of the globe's richest gold deposits—and some of the world's worst mercury contamination. Over the last two decades, as gold production has exploded, more than a million small-scale gold miners have joined the large multi-national corporations working in Indonesia. These small operators use mercury to extract gold from ore, often working in their homes and backyards where they expose themselves, their families, and their unborn children to extremely high concentrations of the toxic heavy metal.
Doctors working with the environmental group BaliFokus Foundation have documented dozens upon dozens of suspected mercury poisoning cases in remote mining communities. The group’s co-founder Yuyun Ismawati terms the ongoing mercury contamination “a public health emergency.” For the affected residents, the consequences are horrific, lifelong, and often deadly.