The institute is currently putting together a global inventory of polluted places with funding from the European Commission and UNIDO in an attempt to get a handle on the extent of the problem.
And the problems created by the pollutants are not confined to the areas immediately surrounding these types of pollution. Mercury vapor, for instance, once burned off by the artisanal miners can drift high into the atmosphere where it crosses continents and even oceans before settling back to the ground. Once in the food chain it bio-accumulates (increases in concentration as it passes up the chain from plant to plant-eater to meat-eater) until it reaches top concentrations in predators such as tuna fish.
"Many of the toxins we find in our evaluation are transboundary and actually move from the point of emission over to our own ecosystem and food chain," Fuller notes. "So mercury from artisanal gold mining can end up in tuna to poison our own children."