Sep 27, 2021 News
Kaieteur News – Though mercury is classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the top 10 most toxic chemicals to humans, it continues to be used in Guyana’s mining sector. It remains a prevalent feature in the sector despite the efforts of successive governments to eradicate or significantly limit its use in the industry.
During his maiden appearance on Kaieteur Radio’s Guyana’s Oil and You, Senior Environmental Officer at the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) Darcy Walrond explained why mercury use is so common in the industry.
He explained that mercury “is cheap, easy to understand or use by artisanal miners and does not require a lot of technical skills.”
Be that as it may, a plethora of research shows that the chemical can have detrimental effects on one’s body from prolonged exposure and even result in irreversible damage. Many artisanal miners who have been exposed over the years, oftentimes suffer from reduced intellectual and motor skill capacity. Research also indicates that mercury poisoning presents a range of other symptoms, but the main effects are concentrated in the nervous, digestive, renal, respiratory, and cardiovascular systems. The long lasting effects on the environment are even worse.
The Senior Environmental Officer was keen to point out that at GGMC, miners are constantly encouraged to transition to “mercury-free technologies” to extract the gold from the earth. He acknowledged however, that lack of adequate financing to allow for this is said to be the main constraint. He shared that some of the green technologies include the use of metal detectors, hydraulic monitors and hammer mills, gravel pumps and excavators.
Even as financing issues continue to allow for the use of mercury in the sector, the country will, however, need to up the ante on curtailing the use of the toxic chemical since Guyana is a signatory to the Minimata Convention.
Almost eight years ago, Guyana signed on to the international treaty, which is designed to protect human life as well as the environment from the release of mercury and its compounds during gold mining activities.
In that regard, Walrond highlighted that the GGMC has developed a National Action Plan (NAP) to not eliminate, but rather phase out the use of mercury in the mining sector.
A big part of that plan, he explained speaks to strict guidelines for the chemical.
“…So you do not use it in an open system…it must always be in a closed system where it does not escape into the environment.
“We endorse the use of retorts [a device used for distillation or dry distillation of substances] where miners must use a retort when they are burning the amalgam, in the amalgam process and these are the things we get to monitor and check against to try and bring at least some sort of reduction in the amount of mercury that is used and released into the environment,” the Senior Environmental Officer outlined.
“We are even testing the efficiencies of the different capture systems that are being used in the industry so that we are at the point where we are trying to meet the obligations of reduction to reduce the amount of mercury being released into the environment.”
Importantly too, Walrond said that GGMC is strengthening efforts to further monitor and control the importation of mercury into Guyana through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Ministry of Natural Resources.
And even a step further, the Senior Environmental Officer revealed too, that GGMC is in the process of developing standards for mercury emissions into the environment with the help of the Guyana National Bureau of Standards.
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