Jun 02, 2018 News
By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
Over a period of five to six months, four workers attached to the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) died under questionable circumstances. The majority of the staff at that entity is convinced that these deaths can be linked to the high levels of mercury emission that pollute the GGMC compound and its environs.
The People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) perceives this to be the case as well.
Yesterday, the party expressed “profound concern at the untimely deaths of four Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) staffers – Mr. Dwayne De Jonge (ranger), Mr. Latchman Chiti (surveyor), Mr. Leroy Green (carpenter) and Mr. Clement Proffit (lab technician).
“The deaths of these staffers, who were documented to have been affected by mercury poisoning, make it clear that every effort must be made to ensure that working conditions are safe.”
The party said that the deaths over “a short period of time,” should be a cause for serious concern.
This newspaper contacted sources at GGMC who said that De Jonge, Chiti and Green are “almost confirmed” to be victims of the pollution.
“The first three we are sure about; I am not sure about the last one because he was ill since last year and I cannot say that his symptoms are consistent with signs of mercury poisoning,” said one employee.
De Jonge died last month; Latchman died last week; Green died earlier in the year and Proffit died a few days ago.
Green was the first to die this year. He died in January 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,” said one employee.
Employees said that no effort was made to compensate the families of the victims.
Further one employee said, “We are very worried; they gave us all these medications but a lot of employees are complaining of not feeling well. And to top it off, some managers are saying that employees are taking advantage, that they are not believing when we say we are ill.”
Yesterday, PPP/C said that GGMC workers and other people living and operating businesses in the area should be consulted and be told how they are going to be protected.
“This is not a political issue. The PPP will support the Government of Guyana to ensure that every effort is made to guarantee the health and safety of our people…We, therefore, urge immediate action by the relevant authorities, including the management of the GGMC and the Ministry of Public Health, to ensure the occupational health and safety standards are in place and the welfare of all staff and citizens are protected.
The GGMC and the Ministry of Public Health must also operationalize all precautionary measures including testing and appropriate treatment of all staff, and persons in neighbouring communities, whom may have been exposed.
“This should be done at the cost of the GGMC. The PPP/C also supports the sourcing of specialists to respond to this matter before it becomes a bigger public health crisis.”
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, kidney failure and muscle weakness. Mercury also proves to cause a serious health risk to unborn children whose mothers have been too exposed.
There was no public announcement when GGMC workers were found with elevated levels of mercury in their blood. However, after media reports, GGMC admitted the incident.
Workers complained that despite many of them being in the danger, the matter was not being treated with urgency.
But then GGMC and Gold Board 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.”
Staffers said that for over six years, there was no testing of workers, “so the man might have had high levels of mercury in his blood but never knew.”
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