Team:UFAM Brazil/Regulation


Regulations on use of Mercury in the Amazon

Getting Closer to the Environmental Secretary of Amazonas State (SDS)

With the Environmental Secretary of Amazonas State (SDS) we fought together against Mercury (Hg) contamination proposing an applicable solution to this, using Synthetic Biology. Although the use of mercury in mining is regulated by the Environment State Council (CEMAAM) by resolutions 011 and 014 published in 2012, Mercury is still being used in a very precariously way in the gold activity throughout Amazon.

Our project caught the chairman’s attention (in the pic above at the center with red shirt!) and reopening the debate on the use of Mercury element in the gold mining industry in the State of Amazonas.

For that reason the UFAM-BRAZIL team was invited to discuss the subject at the SDS office and together evaluate the environmental impact caused by indiscriminated use of Mercury in our region. In that occasion we were given the regulation documents for Hg use in gold mining. We invested time analyzing the papers and verified some points of fragility in the law such as:

1)Very broad scope of the law – the legislation has the same weight to individual or small mining groups and large mining corporations.

Our suggestions – Law enforcement should be light to individuals and small groups without licensing, and must be harder over large corporations. There is a need of miners register conditioning to a bearable area, avoiding over mining and consequent environmental contamination.

2)Limits of Hg per area – Limits are based per person and not on the mining area range. Our suggestions – Limits of Mercury should be based by scientific means and conditioning by the exploration range.

Other aspects pointed out:

3) Lack of inspection and impunity – There is few inspectors in charge, and the size of the Amazon make the task nearly impossible. The small numbers of irregular miners caught are released and not fined, generating a sense of impunity, therefore encouraging them to get back to illegal activities.

Our suggestions – make partnerships with legal private big companies to support inspection by providing boats and small hydroplanes for the task force. Rearing people inside traditional communities to work as inspectors and give them means to inform authorities by fast satellite communication. Regulate it as environmental crime for individuals and not only for big corporations.

4) Lack of adequate technologies – mercury amalgamation is a primitive and cheap way of harvesting gold.

Our suggestions – government through Ministry of Science and Technology should give priority to short term and long term researches in this subject, launching a national challenge to science community in order to solve the problem, including using Synthetic Biology. On the other hand we have already at universities and research institutes validated technologies to treat contaminated waters. These should be an alternative supported by the mining industry through fiscal incentives.

In counterpart of this fruitful debate, SDS gave us support to do our iGEM work and kept in contact since then with the UFAM-Brazil team, both helping each other to make the subject more visible to the media and therefore to the Amazonian community.

Our work join the efforts in bio-detection and biorremediation of Mercury used in illegal and legal gold mining and it is our pilot attempt to tackle the issue with SynBio. It’s our way to save and watch our Amazonian rivers, synonymous of life for all us.

The following resolutions 2012 (which are under discussion) on the regulation of mining practices and use of mercury:

Resolution CEMAAM n° 11 of May 9th 2012

Resolution CEMAAM n° 14 of Oct 18th 2012

Our project caught not only the chairman’s attention but also the press. Above UFAM-Brazil team and SDS meeting. Newspaper "Amazonas em tempo".

Read more: Correio da Amazônia, Bionorte, Amazônia na rede.