The regional impacts of small-scale gold mining in Amazonia

Oswaldo Bezerra, Adalberto Verissimo, Christopher Uhl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Gold mining is the major economic activity in the Upper Tapajós River Basin of the Brazilian Amazon. This article studies the structure, economy and impacts of gold mining operations in this region. Mining has significant environmental impacts in this region resulting in the removal of approximately 67 million m3 of sub-soil per year and accompanied by an annual release of some 12 tons of mercury to air, ground and rivers. In the early 1990s there were 245 mines in operation, employing some 30 000 people and producing around 35t gold per year, valued at approximately $400 million yr-1, the profits being about $110 million yr-1. Miners spent most of their earnings on local goods and services, while mine owners and merchants in the gold towns invested in land (mainly for ranching), business ventures and money markets. Wealth gained from mining has served as an engine for development in other regions of the world and could, theoretically, achieve the same for Amazonia. However, before this could happen, the Government of Brazil would need to mark a strong presence in the area by providing technical assistance and developing and enforcing mining/ environmental regulations. The likelihood of such a development materializing in the foreseeable future is small. In the meantime, gold mining acts, not as an 'engine for development', but as a destabilizing force - provoking environmental damage, social discord and public health hazards in the region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-317
Number of pages13
JournalNatural Resources Forum
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science


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