Yayasan Tambuhak Sinta, a locally-based foundation, was responsible for the successful implementation of the Global Mercury Project in Central Kalimantan. As a result of the project, atmospheric emissions of mercury were drastically reduced. Those responsible for burning mercury amalgam cut their emissions by 75% using simple technology. The water-box condensor systems that were supplied to gold shops by the Yayasan capture a total of 75kg of mercury each month. This mercury would previously have been emitted into the atmosphere of the town of Kereng Pangi. Now, it is captured and recycled instead, by the gold shop operators themselves.

The Global Mercury Project (GMP) was sponsored since August 2002 by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as the Implementing Agency and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) as the Executing Agency. Locations for implementation of the GMP were selected on key trans-boundary river/lake basins in Brazil, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Sudan, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

In Central Kalimantan, the gold town of Kereng Pangi was identified by the Government of Indonesia and UNIDO as a regional hotspot for mercury release. Around 5,000 people inhabit the surrounding goldfields in which artisanal miners produce over two tons of gold per annum. This small-scale, land-based mining activity has reduced the landscape of the study area to desert over an area of 200 square kilometers, through the removal of forests and topsoils.

The landscape of the study area as seen from the air.

Yayasan Tambuhak Sinta, a not-for-profit foundation working in community development, was chosen to implement a nine-month education and awareness program in the town and the surrounding goldfields.

Between June 2006 and February 2007, YTS developed and implemented an investigation into behavior surrounding mercury release, a comprehensive media campaign, a program of mobile demonstrations in the goldfields, a training and a wrap-up workshop, and a series of technological experimentations and interventions in urban gold shops that release mercury fumes into the atmosphere.

A line of dredges work the bedload of a river.

Kalimantan is a land of many rivers, and these have traditionally been a source of gold. Riverbanks are the domain of the indigenous dayak community whose scale of operations has increased recently through the use of floating dredges. This artisanal mining activity is now also spreading to inland regions causing widespread environmental destruction.

Tropical forest surrounds a typical mining camp set amidst open excavation pits.

It is a poverty-driven activity that provides a unique opportunity for workers from Java and Banjarmasin to make sufficient income to generate savings. As a result, about 5,000 immigrant miners are attracted to the goldfields of Galangan every year, 40% of whom are unmarried young adults or teenagers. Using hydraulic monitors, slurry pumps and carpeted sluices to excavate alluvial soils, they produce two tonnes of gold each year.

A young miner at day’s end.

In addition to this transient population, there are 9,500 permanent residents in the town of Kereng Pangi, including an indigenous Dayak population that inhabits the riverside. The somewhat segregated community reflects the fact that the dayak community has traditionally inhabited the riverbanks, and this pattern of distribution remains today.

Training in the river miner community was provided in the local dayak dialect.

A vegetable market in the centre of town is surrounded by gold shops that emit mercury fumes.

The primary causes of health impacts from mercury contamination are: inhalation of mercury vapour; direct contact with mercury; and consumption of contaminated food. However, as 90% of miners remain in the field for less than one year, the high replacement rate often masks the appearance of symptoms among the mining population.

Mercury is hand-mixed with concentrate.

Each year, one and a half tonnes of mercury is combusted and released to the urban atmosphere by the amalgam-burning activities of 35 gold shops alone. These fumes spread from the centre of the town, contaminating everything within a 2km radius.

Miner’s families frequently reside in the field.

Exposure of urban residents in the township is reflected in raised mercury levels in urine samples. Among a sample group of amalgam burners, 59% were diagnosed with mercury intoxication and demonstrated signs of damaged central and peripheral nervous systems.