The Illegal Trade in Chemicals



To assess the illegal mercury trade for the Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining sector in Indonesia, BaliFokus Foundation, anenvironmental NGO, conductedanumber of interviews with miners from different ASGM hotspots in the country. The analysis suggests that miners have easy access to mercury as it is available in the market in various packages and in different amounts from 100 g up to 25 kg packed in plastic bags or plastic jugs. According to a national regulation issued in 2016, importing mercury for ASGM use is forbidden in Indonesia. A lack of monitoring and enforcement, however, results in weak control over mercury trade in shops or via e-commerce platforms. Miners can access mercury 24 hours a day and 7 days a week from various locations, stores and private retailers, and even from door-to-door salesmen. There are various payment options to meet miners’ needs, including cash, loan, credit or as part of working capital. Many miners who work in ASGM hotspots in Sumatera buy mercury in Java every three months when they go home for a break. The owner of the mining area assigns them to buy at least 3 kg of mercury per person (there are five miners in every group) to be reimbursed by the owner upon their return. West Java miners buy mercury directly from the main suppliers and mercury mines in Sukabumi, Bekasi or Bogor. Although Indonesia has the necessary regulations related to packaging and labelling of hazardous substances such as mercury, none of the packaging of mercury sold in ASGM villages and hotspots contains proper symbols, pictograms, hazard statements or Material Safety Data Sheets.

Apart from those miners buying mercury directly from Indonesian mercury mines, most miners and ASGM communities do not knowwhere the mercury came from originally. Some of the packages containing mercury are labeled as mercury fromGermany or Spain (because they are well known for high-grade mercury) and are sold at a higher price compared to the locally produced mercury. The current Indonesian regulations require mercury traders to obtain a permit and be registered at the local departmentsof the relevant governmental agencies, such as the Trade and Industry Agency and the Environmental Agency, but no private retailers or special stores have the necessary permits for selling hazardous substances such as mercury. Most shops and traders have no idea where exactly the mercury comes from except the information provided by the middlemen. Moreover, the relevant law enforcement agencies such as the local resort police or environmental investigators conduct no monitoring to check for compliance and investigate non-compliance with Indonesian regulations. In several ASGM sites, many of the law enforcement officers are involved in the ASGM business to varying degrees. The local units of the police, military, marine, or special forces sometimes play active roles in providing security services to ASGM activities. These services may involve securing the raw material supply, guarding the mining area, and/or protecting the production and transportation of gold. When the financiers or the owner of an ASGM site hire a helicopter to bring several plastic jugs of mercury to a remote site in the jungle, for example, law enforcement personnel have been known to secure the helicopter landing space.

The Illegal Trade in Chemicals


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