Tag Archives: Amazon rainforest pollution

Wild West: Mercury Pollution in the Amazon Rainforest

Munduruku Indigenous people in the Tapajós basin – an epicenter of illegal gold mining in the Amazon rainforest – in southwestern Pará state have reported increasing encroachments upon their lands by armed “wildcat” miners known as “garimpeiros” since March 14, 2021. The Federal Prosecutor’s Office has warned of a potential for violence between local residents and the miners and urged the deployment of the federal police and other authorities to remove the trespassers. But the government has yet to act. The tension has escalated in recent weeks after a group of miners brought equipment to the area.

Illegal mining causes significant deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and has been linked to dangerous levels of mercury poisoning, from mercury widely used to process the gold, in several Munduruku communities along the Tapajós basin. Indigenous people also fear that miners could spread the Covid-19 virus in their communities.

In a public statement on March 16, 2021 the Federal Prosecutor’s Office reported that a helicopter appeared to have escorted the miners and their equipment, suggesting the invasion is “an orchestrated action” by an organized crime group. The office also reported that the miners may be coordinating the invasion with a “small group” of Indigenous people who support the mining. Members of Munduruku communities who oppose the mining and have reported the invasions to the authorities say they have faced threats and intimidation. On March 19, 2021 armed men reportedly prevented a group of Munduruku Indigenous people from disembarking from their boats in an area within their territory. On March 25, 2021 in the Jacareacanga municipality, miners and their supporters forced their way into a building that houses the Wakoborun Women’s Association and other community organizations that have opposed the mining. The attackers destroyed furniture and equipment and set fire to documents, Indigenous leaders reported…

President Bolsonaro has signaled his aversion to protecting Indigenous lands. As a candidate, he vowed not to designate “one more centimeter” of land as Indigenous territory. His administration has halted the demarcation of Indigenous territories – there are 237 pending requests – leaving Indigenous communities even more vulnerable to encroachments, deforestation, and violence. The Munduruku territory is already demarcated. In 2020, Bolsonaro introduced a draft bill in Congress to allow mining and other commercial activities in Indigenous territories. The bill is pending in Congress and is listed as one of Bolsonaro’s priorities.

Excerpt from Brazil: Remove Miners from Indigenous Amazon Territory, Human Rights Watch, Apr. 12, 2021

Beyond Deforestation–Toxic Waste Pollution at the Amazon Rainforest

Maria do Socorro explains in graphic detail the spate of ailments affecting newborns in her remote community in the Amazon: her grandson died after being born with his intestines outside his body, while others were missing organs or had undeveloped bones.  For the 56-year-old community leader, there is little doubt about the cause of these illnesses. She said the rainforest town had for years suffered from toxic waste pollution from the local operations of Norwegian aluminum producer Norsk Hydro.

Long a simmering environmental scandal in Brazil, the allegations were brought on to the international stage in February 2021 when Socorro’s community sued the Norwegian giant in a Dutch court, seeking damages for claims that “the incorrect disposal of toxic waste” from operations in the area had caused a variety of health ailments, polluted the rainforest and destroyed economic opportunities.

“If business can be global, why can’t justice? These companies have businesses everywhere, but then when they do something wrong they want to smother the possibility of people getting compensation,” said Pedro Martins, partner at law firm PGMBM, which is representing 40,000 alleged victims bringing the suit against Norsk Hydro…

Through local entities, Norsk Hydro runs three facilities — a bauxite mine, a refinery and a smelter — in Pará, a vast Amazonian state that is a flashpoint for illegal deforestation, gold mining and land-grabbing.  The company…denied that in 2018 pollutants from its facilities spilled over during heavy rains and polluted nearby rivers and earth….

Locals say bauxite, lead and aluminium pollution have turned the region’s rivers red. A study from the Evandro Chagas Institute, a Brazilian public health body, found in 2018 that the region’s waters were so polluted with industrial waste from the Norsk Hydro facilities that they “cannot be used for recreation, fishing, or human consumption”.

“I invite these Norwegians to come and bathe in our waters. I challenge them. They have good water there in Norway. Our wealth just goes there,” said Socorro, who heads Cainquiama, a group representing mainly indigenous people and quilombolas — the descendants of runaway slaves. Nearly all of the claimants in the suit have complained about chronic pain, hair loss and skin conditions. The suit also contains claims in relation to birth defects, such as those that have affected Socorro’s grandson, who was born with gastroschisis — a hole in the abdominal wall.

The case is a sensitive one for Norwegian investors and the government, which owns a 34 per cent stake in Norsk Hydro. Oslo has long attempted to hold Brasília to account for the environmental destruction of the Amazon, even publishing its own data on deforestation in the world’s largest rainforest.

Excerpts from Bryan Harris, Norsk Hydro blamed for birth defects in Amazon forest pollution case, FT, Feb. 27, 2021

Forest Fires in Africa Feed the Amazon Rainforest

The world’s largest rainforest and a crucial store of carbon dioxide gets most of its phosphorous, an important nutrient, from an unexpected source: fires in Africa.  Strange as it may seem, we thought that the Amazon got much of its phosphorus from dust whipped up from the Sahara Desert and transported across the Atlantic on the wind.

Cassandra Gaston at the University of Miami, US, and her colleagues had set out to quantify the effect of the phosphorous in Saharan dust on the Amazon’s growth. To do this, they collected and analysed particles caught in filters from a hilltop in French Guiana, at the northern edge of the Amazon Basin. But at the same time, they used satellites to track smoke from fires in Africa — both people burning wood and natural forest fires — drifting Westwards across the ocean. It turned out that the arrival of patches of smoke coincided with high levels of phosphorous being detected in the filters.  Gaston and her team then estimated how much of the phosphorus deposited on the Amazon Basin comes from African biomass burning. They found that, in Spring, smoke from the fires was responsible for most of the nutrient entering the Amazon Basin. …The findings suggest that people burning wood and other materials in Africa might have an impact on how much the Amazon grows and therefore how much carbon it stores in future.

Excerpt from The Amazon rainforest depends on fires in Africa for a vital nutrient, New Scientist, July 29, 2019

Oil Pollution in Amazon Peru

Hundreds of indigenous people deep in the Peruvian Amazon are blocking a major Amazon tributary following what they say is the government’s failure to address a social and environmental crisis stemming from oil operations.   Kichwa men, women and children from numerous communities have been protesting along the River Tigre for almost a month, barring the river with cables and stopping oil company boats from passing.  Oil companies have operated in the region for over 40 years, and have been linked by local people to pollution that has led the government to declare “environmental emergencies” in the Tigre and other river basins….

The oil concession where the protest is taking place, Lot 1-AB, is Peru’s most productive, but the contract, held by Pluspetrol, expires in August 2015. The government has committed to relicensing it and consulting the indigenous communities involved, but leaders say the contamination and other issues must be addressed first.   “What we want is remediation, compensation, and to be consulted, according to international norms, about the relicensing,” says Fachin. “We won’t permit another 30 years of work otherwise.”…The Kichwas are now they are demanding 100 million Peruvian nuevo soles, from Pluspetrol, for “compensation after almost 45 years of contamination.”

“The state declared an environmental emergency, but hasn’t done anything,” says Guillermo Sandi Tuituy, from indigenous federation Feconat. “It must find a solution to this problem if it wants to relicense the concession.”...Pluspetrol took over Lot 1-AB from Occidental in 2000. It did not respond to requests for comment.

Peru’s indigenous people protest against relicensing of oil concession, Guardian,  Feb, 2, 2012

Demand for Gold Causes Deforestation

The global gold rush, driven by increasing consumption in developing countries and uncertainty in financial markets, is an increasing threat for tropical ecosystems. Gold mining causes significant alteration to the environment, yet mining is often overlooked in deforestation analyses because it occupies relatively small areas. As a result, we lack a comprehensive assessment of the spatial extent of gold mining impacts on tropical forests.

The study Global demand for gold is another threat for tropical forests published in Environmental Research Letters provides a regional assessment of gold mining deforestation in the tropical moist forest biome of South America. Specifically, we analyzed the patterns of forest change in gold mining sites between 2001 and 2013, and evaluated the proximity of gold mining deforestation to protected areas (PAs)….Approximately 1680 km2 of tropical moist forest was lost in these mining sites between 2001 and 2013. Deforestation was significantly higher during the 2007–2013 period, and this was associated with the increase in global demand for gold after the international financial crisis….In addition, some of the more active zones of gold mining deforestation occurred inside or within 10 km of ~32 PAs. There is an urgent need to understand the ecological and social impacts of gold mining because it is an important cause of deforestation in the most remote forests in South America, and the impacts, particularly in aquatic systems, spread well beyond the actual mining sites.

Excerpt from Abstract, Global demand for gold is another threat for tropical forests

HardBall: Chevron and the Oil Pollution in Amazon

An environmental case that has pitted Chevron against Ecuadorean Amazon villagers for two decades has taken another bizarre twist, with an American consulting firm now recanting research favorable to the villagers’ claims of pollution in remote tracts of jungle.  The consulting firm, Stratus Consulting of Boulder, Colo., announced late Thursday (April 11, 2013) that it had originally been misled by Steven R. Donziger, a lead lawyer for the Ecuadorean villagers, and had decided to disavow its contributions to scientific research about whether there was groundwater contamination that sickened the residents in swaths of rain forest.

The move prompted the plaintiffs to assert that Chevron was coercing parties to the case, citing this as another example of strong tactics employed by the company as it tries to overturn an Ecuadorean judge’s decision two years ago that it pay $18 billion in damages, one of the largest environmental awards ever. In this instance, the plaintiffs claim that Chevron pressured Stratus to retract its assessment in exchange for dismissal of legal claims in a countersuit filed by Chevron made against the firm — claims that could have pushed the consulting business into bankruptcy.  “Stratus deeply regrets its involvement in the Ecuador litigation,” the firm said. It remains unclear whether this development with Stratus will have much impact on Chevron’s appeals, because the judge also based his ruling on other environmental assessments. The judge ruled that back in the 1970s, Texaco had left an environmental mess in oil drilling operations while operating as a partner with the Ecuadorean state oil company, and that Chevron, which bought Texaco in 2001, must apologize for and was liable for the damage.

Chevron has refused to apologize. In addition to appealing the decision in the Ecuadorean courts, Chevron also filed a countersuit in federal court in New York against Mr. Donziger and Stratus Consulting, accusing them of racketeering and fraud. Because Stratus has now retracted its statements on the Ecuadorean pollution, Chevron agreed not to pursue claims against the firm anymore. On Friday, Chevron filed witness statements from Douglas Beltman, a Stratus vice president, and Ann Maest, a Stratus scientist, in which they now say they were not aware of scientific evidence of groundwater contamination in the former Texaco concession area or of any adverse health impact to people from the operations.

Mr. Beltman stated that “at Donziger’s direction,” he drafted portions of a report in the first person as if it were written by Richard Cabrera, the supposedly independent expert, that detailed environmental damage for the Ecuadorean court. “Donziger stressed to me and Ann Maest the importance of Stratus ensuring that no one learn of Stratus’ involvement in any aspect of the Cabrera Report or Responses,” he said.  In an interview, Mr. Beltman said, “This settlement was extensively negotiated with Chevron and we think it’s fair and it’s not extortion.”  Mr. Donziger said he could not comment since he was a defendant in the racketeering case filed by Chevron.

It was not immediately clear what impact Stratus’s recantation would have on the case. Chevron’s appeal is before Ecuador’s highest court, the National Court of Justice, and the company is defending itself in courts in Canada, Argentina and Brazil to avoid paying damages in those countries. The plaintiffs are waging an international campaign seeking damages because Chevron has no assets in Ecuador itself…

Kent Robertson, a Chevron spokesman, said the statements should uphold the company’s position in the American racketeering case and in the international enforcement proceedings. “The declarations today show there is no scientific evidence to support the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ allegations,” he said.

Craig Smyser, a lawyer for some of the Ecuadorean plaintiffs, said the statements by the consulting firm “should have almost no effect” because the Ecuadorean judge relied on many expert reports other than the one that Stratus was involved in.  He attributed the decision by Stratus to repudiate its earlier work to the “immense financial strain that threatened the financial extinction of the firm, including a campaign by Chevron to discredit Stratus with various government agencies and businesses with which Stratus worked.”

Chevron has been playing hardball for at least four years. The company produced video recordings from pens and watches wired with bugging devices that suggested a bribery scheme surrounding the proceedings and involving a judge hearing the case. An American behind the secret recordings was a convicted drug trafficker.  But the oil company appeared to gain the upper hand three years ago when it won a legal bid to secure the outtakes from a documentary about the case, “Crude,” in which Mr. Donziger was shown describing the need to pressure a Ecuadorean judge and boasting of meetings with Ecuadorean officials.

In a sworn statement filed in an American court, Alberto Guerra, an Ecuadorean judge who heard the Chevron case in 2003 and 2004, accused Nicolas Zambrano, the judge who issued the $18 billion verdict against Chevron, of taking a $500,000 bribe from the plaintiffs. Mr. Zambrano denied the charge, and in his own affidavit, said that Mr. Guerra had told him that Chevron would offer him $1 million in return for a favorable judgment.  Chevron has denied offering any bribes.

By CLIFFORD KRAUSS, Consultant Recants in Chevron Pollution Case in Ecuador, NY Times, April 12, 2013