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Abstract Title: Double the risk: COVID-19 and exposure to mercury by artisanal small-scale gold mining communities in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia
Presenter Name: Sara Beavis
Company/Institution: Fenner School of Environment & Society, Australian National University
Session: Mercury in Artisanal Gold Mining
Day and Session: Wednesday 27th July - SessionTwo
Start Time: 11:30 UTC
Co-Authors: Sara Beavis

Abstract Information :

The use of mercury in artisanal small-scale gold mining (ASGM), and its risks to human health and the environment have been well documented across different biophysical and cultural landscapes globally. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, this study explored the combined risks of the slow disaster of prolonged mercury exposure together with the sudden shock of a public health crisis on artisanal miners in two ASGM communities in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Under these conditions, a number of key findings emerged. Firstly, the public health requirement for increased water use amplified the risks of exposure to contaminated water, especially for women. This was particularly evident where there was a heavy reliance on the use of local river water, but was also in response to higher costs or disrupted supply chains of bottled water. Secondly, the assumption that ASGM miners should be increasingly familiar with the risks of mercury and therefore limit its use in gold processing, is misleading. In this study, members of these mining communities had very limited understanding, if any, of the toxicity of mercury and the health impacts of direct or indirect exposure despite global and national efforts to eliminate the use of mercury in ASGM. Finally, this study contends that each of these findings is linked because the vulnerabilities of these marginalised communities are exacerbated due to their limited buffering capacity against disaster.

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