Pollution of water sources from gold mining activity has harmed the health of most of the residents of a central Honduran valley, where skin and eye ailments and even newborn deaths are frequent, local environmental activists say.

"Eighty of every 100 inhabitants suffer skin or eye problems due to the pollution of water sources" in the Siria Valley, east of Tegucigalpa, Juan Almendares, coordinator of the Mother Earth Movement, said Wednesday, attributing the situation to mining activity in the area through 2008.

In addition to those ailments, local residents "suffer nervous system problems, hair loss, miscarriages, infertility, premature deliveries, newborn deaths and poisoning," Almendares, former president of the National Autonomous University of Honduras, added.

Canadian gold producer Goldcorp operated in the Siria Valley between 2000 and 2008, during which time it caused "irreversible" damage to water sources," Roger Escobar, vice president of the Siria Valley environmental committee, told Efe.

The nearly 40,000 inhabitants of villages in the valley have been forced to use polluted water and that has damaged their health, according to the activist, who said the government is chiefly responsible because it gave the green light for the mining projects.

According to Almendares, women have been "the most affected" by the environmental damage in the Siria Valley because they have "the most contact with the polluted water."

The Honduran Congress is currently debating a draft bill aimed at promoting mining while ensuring environmental protection.

Almendares has urged lawmakers to vote down the bill, saying it would favor "only the mining companies, open-pit production," and would allow concessions to be awarded "in protected areas" of Honduras.

"What we want is for the mining companies to leave the country," Almendares said, adding that the mining industry accounts for less than 2 percent of Honduras' gross domestic product. EFE