Environmental authorities have warned that damage caused by illegal gold mining in the northwestern state of Risaralda is the worst in the history of the region, local media reported on Thursday.
According to the government’s Regional Autonomous Corporation of Risaralda (CADER), illegal gold mining operations by private companies have left pools of cyanide and mercury along the countryside twice the size of an Olympic swimming pool and have devastated local communities, Caracol Radio reported.
As a result of negligence by the private mining companies, the pollution of the Aguita River in the state’s west has killed off the fish population and caused damage to the trees as well as local wildlife over the past three months.
According to Caracol, water-pumping machines designed to extract gold have been placed every 55 yards along the river resulting in the dumping of toxic chemicals into the river.
Illegal mining throughout Colombia continues to be a pressing issue causing not only widespread environmental damage, but also numerous fatalities of predominantly poor rural miners due to unsafe conditions.
In addition to the disregard for the environment, private mining companies have had negative effects on the local indigenous Embera Chami reservation.
Local people claim to have negotiated a deal with the mining companies where a percentage of the profits would be used to repair a suspension bridge across the river.
However, according to a member of the community, “There are people from Antioquia [state] who tell us they are former mine workers who have come to extract gold from here — that they would give us 5% of every gram (.04 oz) they extract, but they only gave us 20,000 pesos ($10.50) every week or every 15 days. Then they left, and they didn’t fix the bridge.”
After conducting several visits to the area, both the regional Ombudsman and the CADER sent reports to the national authorities requesting intervention with the aim of halting the predatory actions of illegal mining companies, RCN Radio reported.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced last month that the government would offer large rewards for decisive information on illegal gold mining operations, up to 10% of the value of any impounded gold.