Yuyun Ismawati
    Category: Inspiring Women 2014 By : Ulisari Eslita Read : 3294 Date : Monday, March 10, 2014 - 07:07:26

    Ahmad Zamroni / Forbes Indonesia

    Yuyun Ismawati is in a war against mercury. Although the toxic substance is banned for gold mining here, it is still widely used illegally by Indonesia’s many small-scale gold mines. While larger commercial gold mines use other, safer methods to extract their gold, these artisanal and small-scale gold miners (ASGM) illegally use about 350 tonnes of mercury a year. Legal use, in items such as thermometers and medical devices, is about 50 tonnes a year. The mercury from the gold mining threatens both the miners and the surrounding area—as it is often released into the environment after being used in mining.

    Indonesia is the world’s top country for the amount of mercury emissions from ASGM, says Yuyun. “More than half of these emissions came from the ASGM sector with a total emissions of almost 200 tonnes a year, which is about 20% of the total global ASGM emissions,” says Yuyun, who now lives in London but visits Indonesia every few months.

    While Yuyun has a special interest in Indonesia, she is fighting the use of mercury everywhere in the world. Her battle started back in 2008, after eight years working in waste management systems and water supply systems in Bali through her environmental group, the Balifokus Foundation. At the time, Yuyun realized, few were paying attention to the release of mercury into the environment. She deepened her knowledge by doing her master’s thesis at Oxford on the subject of ASGM in Central Sulawesi in 2010 (she graduated in 2011).

    Yuyun says Indonesia has 850 mercury contamination hotspots across the country. During a visit to Indonesias last month, Yuyun went to a village in West Java, where ASGM has contaminated the environment after a gold rush in 2007. At a mercury convention in Japan last year, Yuyun saw firsthand the effects of mercury poisoning. “I saw people who are contaminated by mercury since they were toddlers. Now they sit in a wheelchair, hardly able to speak or think like normal people. I don’t want this to happen to others,” says Yuyun. She says the government should stop importing mercury and set a mercury reduction target immediately on a national level. Sadly, she says, the government seems unconcerned with this, but she continues her battle.