Story Publication logo July 11, 2022

Querétaro: Mercury Fever (Spanish)


An aerial overview of a deforested area contaminated with mercury in Brazil.

Uncovering the origin and the traffic of the mercury used for gold mining in the Amazon Forest.

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Multiple Authors
A mine at the base of a mountainscape. 'Carmago' is emblazoned on the center peak.
The Camargo mercury mine, in the municipality of Peñamiller, Querétaro. Image by Alejandro Saldívar. Mexico, 2022.

This story excerpt was translated from Spanish. To read the original story in full, visit Proceso. You may also view the original story on the Rainforest Journalism Fund website here. Our website is available in English, Spanish, bahasa Indonesia, French, and Portuguese.

Mercury mining in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve has destroyed the ecosystem and challenged the lives of artisanal miners. The federal government announced a gradual closure of the mercury mines, but alternatives for the miners seem distant. These mines have become the livelihood of several communities in Querétaro, despite the fact that the soil, air, and water in this mountainous system are already affected by mercury.

CAMARGO, Querétaro, Mexico — A cascade of gray stones breaks the harmony of the idyllic landscape of the Sierra Gorda. While the sun pours above the clouds and spreads with beatitude over a Virgin of Guadalupe painted on the hill, the chimneys of the artisanal mercury furnaces exhale a sulfurous, pungent aroma.

Como una organización periodística sin fines de lucro, dependemos de su apoyo para financiar el periodismo que cubre temas poco difundidos en todo el mundo. Done cualquier valor hoy y conviértase en un Campeón del Centro Pulitzer recibiendo beneficios exclusivos.

Surrounded by a winding road, the Camargo mine is broken into four slopes where mercury is extracted, processed, and baked artisanally. From the gloom of the mine shaft, three workers push a cart with corn sacks filled with black stones. They emerge from the mine wearing a black dust mask, exhausted after hammering rocks with a pointed hammer.

Three workers, straining, push a cart from a mine.
Miners extract ore from the mercury at the Camargo mine. Image by Alejandro Saldívar. Mexico, 2022.
Right: a man wearing a red hard hat and a headlamp stands outside of a blurred mine entrance.<br />
Left: Aerial view of the smelting site, a teardrop-shaped gravel cutout in the wilderness.
Left: Santiago at the Carmargo mine. Right: the furnace area. Images by Alejandro Saldívar. Mexico, 2022.
A larger rock among pebbles.
"The little cinnabar." Image by Alejandro Saldívar. Mexico, 2022.

Left: One of the smelting furnaces at the Camargo mine. Right: a mercury puller. Image by Alejandro Saldívar. Mexico, 2022.
Aerial view of the mine, a cluster of shelters, and access roads.
The Camargo mine in Peñamiller, Querétaro. Image by Alejandro Saldívar. Mexico, 2022.
An oven under a shelter of thin branches and corrugated steel.
One of the artisanal kilns at the Camargo mine. Image by Alejandro Saldívar. Mexico, 2022.

Sierra Gorda, an intoxicated landscape. Image by Alejandro Saldívar. Mexico, 2022.