BOGOTA – The Colombian national ombudsman’s office said that even as the Andean nation suffers a drought, illegal mining activity annually contaminates 13 billion liters (3.4 billion gallons) of water with substances such as mercury and cyanide.
Inspectors found those and other toxins in water in rural areas of Bolivar, Cauca, Antioquia, Choco and Cordoba provinces, acting ombudsman Alfonso Cajiao told a press conference.
Water is likewise polluted by fuel that leaks from the dredging and excavation machines used by unlicensed miners, he said.
Cajiao also pointed to the role of illegal mining in deforestation, destroying 16,700 hectares (41,230 acres) a year of woodland.
In addition to the unlicensed miners, there are 350 mining outfits that operate under official concessions without environmental certification, the ombudsman’s office found.
Illegal mining has a negative impact on the ecosystem, infringes on workers’ rights, and enables “the strengthening of illegal armed groups” involved in the trade, Cajiao said.
Colombian authorities estimate revenues from illegal mining operations at 7 trillion pesos ($2.07 billion) a year.