Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is the leading global source of mercury pollution. Efforts to reduce or eliminate mercury use in ASGM have produced limited results, in part because they do not engage the complex socio-technical nature of mercury issues in ASGM. The paper takes a multidisciplinary approach to understand the mercury issue with a socio-technical lens, pairing sampling of mercury in soils with surveys of miners' and residents' perceptions of mercury pollution and its dispersion. The research was conducted in Secocha, an ASGM boomtown in southern Peru. Mercury levels in soils exceeded relevant standards in both industrial zones (average of 72.6 mg/kg, versus the Peruvian standard of 24 mg/kg) and residential/urban zones (average of 9.5 mg/kg, versus the Peruvian standard of 6.6 mg/kg). Mercury levels were highest where processing and gold buying activity were concentrated. Surveys revealed that miners and residents correctly assumed mercury pollution to be highest in those areas. However, respondents seemed to underestimate the extent of mercury pollution in other parts of town, and many believed that only those who handle mercury directly were affected by it. Respondents also placed low priority on reducing mercury pollution. Miners' and residents’ partial knowledge about mercury contamination and the low priority accorded to the issue suggest that mercury reduction efforts would likely be met with indifference and potentially resistance.
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