The upper reaches of the Chindwin River have become dangerously polluted from mercury used in illegal gold mining operations, civil society groups have warned.

The groups include the Kalay-Kabaw Basin Monitoring Institute which has called for pollution levels in the Chindwin to be checked.

“The mercury level in the Chindwin River should be measured because of the increasing number of illegal gold mining and panning operations in its upper reaches,” said U Kyaw Thet Win, a member of the institute, based in Kalay, Sagaing Division.

“People living along the river rely on it as a source of water and the mercury contamination levels are highly dangerous for them,” U Kyaw Thet Win said.

“The fish population has also been affected, so the river’s mercury levels should be checked,” he said.

A geologist from the Myanmar Green Network, U Saw Moe Myint, also blamed gold mining operations for a “dangerous” level of mercury contamination in the river.

U Saw Moe Myint said mercury was highly toxic and if a spoonful was dissolved in a lake of fifty square feet all the fish in the lake would die.

The Upper Chindwin Youth Network raised its concerns about mercury pollution in the river when it met the speaker of parliament, Thura U Shwe Mann, during his visit to Kalay on November 16 last year.

“But the government has taken no action yet,” said U Kyaw Thet Win, who is also a member of the Upper Chindwin Youth Network.

The chairman of the Gold Enterprise Association of Sagaing Region, U Tin Swe, told Mizzima in a telephone interview on February 9 that 90 percent of the gold mining taking place in the upper reaches of the river is illegal.