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Gold & Deforestation

May 11, 2011

Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest increases as gold prices rise.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Sacrificing trees for gold…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Gold prices have been increasing at a rapid rate since 2002, driven in part by demand from India and China. But this may not be golden for the environment, according to Duke University landscape ecologist Jennifer Swenson. She and her colleagues found that as gold prices have risen, destruction of the Peruvian rainforest has also increased. She says impoverished miners use chainsaws and bulldozers to clear the forest.

JENNIFER SWENSON (Duke University):

What they’re trying to get at is the sediments beneath the forest, and so they have to clear the forest to actually start sifting through the sediments for gold flakes.

HIRSHON:

The miners use mercury to separate the gold from the sediment. The toxin then finds its way into the air and into water, where it contaminates fish. Swenson adds that increased gold prices are probably driving deforestation in other parts of the world as well. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.