Mercury mining in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve has destroyed the ecosystem and challenged the lives of artisanal miners. The federal government announced a gradual closure of the mercury mines, but alternatives for the miners seem distant. These mines have become the livelihood of several communities in Querétaro, despite the fact that the soil, air, and water in this mountainous system are already affected by mercury.
CAMARGO, Querétaro, Mexico — A cascade of gray stones breaks the harmony of the idyllic landscape of the Sierra Gorda. While the sun pours above the clouds and spreads with beatitude over a Virgin of Guadalupe painted on the hill, the chimneys of the artisanal mercury furnaces exhale a sulfurous, pungent aroma.
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Surrounded by a winding road, the Camargo mine is broken into four slopes where mercury is extracted, processed, and baked artisanally. From the gloom of the mine shaft, three workers push a cart with corn sacks filled with black stones. They emerge from the mine wearing a black dust mask, exhausted after hammering rocks with a pointed hammer.