The Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and the Guyana Gold Board (GGB) maintain that the poisoning of workers is not yet at an alarming stage.
The agencies sent out a joint statement acknowledging that there was a problem with mercury emissions but said that there is disagreement that matters are at a “crisis stage” and that many are “in danger zone” as was reported by this newspaper.
The agencies said that while there is indeed a situation where the typical treatments are presently unavailable, “the GGMC has made other arrangements to address this shortfall.”
“Both the GGMC and the GGB believe that the matter is under control because of the many measures taken,” the statement read. It was also noted that the GGMC and the GGB have collaborated in the past several weeks to enhance mercury management activities at the Brickdam Complex, so that there are no emissions of mercury during daily operations. This, according to the agencies, is in addition to measures that were already in place, and part of operational routines which had included regular testing of workers.
The agencies said that there was “comprehensive inspection of the entire emissions control system; timely refurbishing of all areas and aspects of related systems; physical extension of emissions chimney; satisfactory testing of work and resulting emissions; arranging for written assurances (warranties) as to work performed; continuing with an aggressive maintenance schedule; recruiting external monitoring parties for safety certification purposes; and continuous monitoring to detect any suspicious levels.
Additionally, the agencies said that there have been frank and timely communications with GGMC staff. Specifically, the GGMC said that it has communicated to those few staff members who have an elevated mercury level that all efforts will be made to have them evaluated and treated, in line with guidance shared by the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
“The GGMC and the GGB wish to assure everyone that the matter of mercury emissions is of serious concern and engages the highest levels of attention from its senior administrators. The GGMC and the GGB stand fully committed and involved through continuous monitoring to control the situation to meet all acceptable safety levels,” the statement noted.
However, contrary reports from the staff of GMMC came to this newspaper last week.
Workers claimed that there might have been at least one death associated with the inhalation of mercury emissions.
Staffers said that last January, a carpenter attached to GGMC died of kidney failure. That complication is believed to have been associated with high exposure to mercury. “He was a fairly young man; he worked for years at the carpentry workshop which is close to the lab where the burning is done.”
Staffers said that for over six years, no testing of workers has been done, “so the man might have had high levels of mercury in his blood but never knew.”
Kaieteur News also learnt that only about five of the 55 workers recently tested were found to have safe levels of mercury in the blood.
The industrial nurse attached to GGMC told the workers that 0-6 microgram per litre (mcg/l) is safe; 7-10 mcg/l is high, and anything more than 11 mcg/l would be considered dangerous.
However, the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) has advised workers that they consider 3mcg/l and above to be worthy of medical attention.
Hardly any of the workers who were tested were found to have under 2mcg/l. While most workers fell in the range of 6 to 12, alarmingly some persons are as high as 21.
NIS has told the workers that they will treat the issue as an industrial accident in terms of exposure and negligence.
If mercury vapour is inhaled, it is easily absorbed by the body, where it first gets into the lungs then into the blood and the brain. The nerve poison can cause sleep disorders, agitation, and paralysis.
Effects of sustained exposures to high levels of mercury emissions include disturbances in vision, hearing and speech, numbness in fingers and toes and lack of coordination and muscle weakness. Mercury also proves to cause a serious health risk to unborn children whose mothers have been too exposed.
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