Thousands of children with crippling birth defects. Half a million people poisoned. A toxic chemical found in the food supply. Accusations of a government cover-up and police officers on the take.
This is the legacy of Indonesia’s mercury trade, a business intertwined with the lucrative and illegal production of gold.
More than a hundred nations have joined a global campaign to reduce the international trade in mercury, an element so toxic there is “no known safe level of exposure,” according to health experts.
But that effort has backfired in Indonesia, where illicit backyard manufacturers have sprung up to supply wildcat miners and replace mercury that was previously imported from abroad. Now, Indonesia produces so much black-market mercury that it has become a major global supplier, surreptitiously shipping thousands of tons to other parts of the world.
Much of the mercury is destined for use in gold mining in Africa and Asia, passing through hubs such as Dubai and Singapore, according to court records — and the trade has deadly consequences.
“It is a public health crisis,” said Yuyun Ismawati, a co-founder of an Indonesian environmental group, Nexus3 Foundation, and a recipient of the 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize. She has called for a worldwide ban on using mercury in gold mining.
Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation, stands out for its huge number of outlaw gold miners and for concerns that some law enforcement officials assigned to police the trade are instead profiting from it.
As much as anyone, Cece Rifa’i, a former miner, is responsible for Indonesia’s mercury boom and spreading the scourge of contamination across the country.
But he has no regrets.
“I don’t feel guilty about anything,” he said from the veranda of his two-story home on the island of Java.
For years, Cece was a pioneer in a network of illegal mercury producers, traders and smugglers who supply gold miners across Indonesia with mercury, used to extract gold from crushed ore.
On a single day, operating a furnace he constructed in his backyard, he could produce a ton of black-market mercury worth more than $20,000, he said.
For decades, Indonesia got most of its mercury legally from the United States and Europe. But recognizing the harm it was doing, Western countries began reducing mercury exports six years ago.
Since 2013, 114 countries, including Indonesia, have signed on to the Minamata Convention, a treaty that took effect in 2017 and that requires participating nations to reduce the export and use of mercury in a variety of industries.
Nevertheless, United Nations trade data shows that Indonesia became a significant exporter of mercury from 2015 to 2017, peaking at more than 320 tons in 2016.
wildcat當名詞時是野貓，當形容詞時有幾種引申義。第一是「財務不可靠的」，如：wildcat banks，或「財務不可靠的機構發行的」，如：wildcat currency。美國有一本書wildcat currency（中譯「虛擬貨幣經濟學」），就是談虛擬貨幣，包括線上寶物、紅利點數、比特幣等。
第二是本文使用的意思「在合法範圍外的」，所以wildcat miners是「未經官方許可的採礦者 」。第三是「未經工會同意的」，如：wildcat strike。最後是「在未曾鑽探過油氣的地區鑽鑿的」，如：wildcat well，這是美國人早期在德州鑽井時的俚語。
illegal和illicit是同義詞，可以互換，不過illicit多了一個意思「社會不容的」，如：an illicit love affair。