Business News of 2014-05-10

'Regulate use of mercury among small-scale miners'

A civil society organisation has said that government must institute policies that will regulate and abolish the use of mercury by small-scale miners in the country.

The group, Artisanal & Small Mining Africa-Network (ASMAN), a non-governmental organisation focused on the development and promotion of responsible and Artisanal Small-Scale Gold Mining in the country's mining industry, said the use of mercury among small-scale miners may cause many operators in the industry to die from the long-term and bio-accumulated effects of being exposed to the mixture of gold and mercury.

Edward Kwasi Akuoko, Director of Research and Policy of the group, expressed fear during an interaction with the media after a two- day forum for Africa countries on reducing environmental health impacts of harmful pollutants in the Africa region. It was held in Accra with support from the World Bank.

Mr. Akuoko explained that the practice, which is most common among the larger populace of small-scale mining operators, is taking a gradual but serious toll on the lives of individual small-scale mining operators in the country.

He said studies by some scientists, researchers and medical doctors in the country and across the globe have revealed that most of the miners who complain of discoloured skin and itching, insomnia and hypertension have had some form of exposure to mercury over a long period of time.

Mercury exposure in ASGM communities is associated with adverse health effects including Kidney dysfunction, auto immune dysfunction, and neurological symptoms.

Urinary mercury Concentrations in ASGM communities are above the concentrations that have been associated with neurologic and kidney effects.

Fish, a major source of protein for many populations in ASGM areas, are contaminated with methyl mercury.

"Although research has so far not revealed any instant reaction to mercury exposure, it is known to be a slow “killer” and therefore its use must be discouraged. The long-term effects on the operators, surrounding communities and the eco-system are very devastating and harmful.

"It’s disappointing that previous efforts at controlling the effects of mercury-use through use of the retort bottle by small-scale miners did not work. A new strategy needs to be adopted to safeguard the health of operators, communities and the ecosystem," he said.

He called on government and the regulatory agencies such as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Minerals Commission to, as a matter of urgency, put in place a programme to not only educate Small Scale Miners (SSM) on the dangers of using the product, but also assist, motivate and build the capacity to adopt and apply alternative mercury-free methods used in gold recovery -- such as the direct smelting and cyanide processing methods.

Mr. Akuoko commended the World Bank and the EPA for the platform to deliberate on how best to manage pollution of all forms in the respective countries.

He further called on the World Bank to support civil society groups to champion the vision of a mercury-free industrial and mining sector.

Source: B&FT
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