Sunday, February 27, 2011

Miners call for No Mercury, Cite NGO Study

The Benguet Federation of Small-Scale Miners, Inc. (BFSSMI), a provincial association of more than 10,000 gold miners called the attention of local government and their fellow miners of the growing mercury pollution coming from the small-scale mining sector citing a recent study on mercury air emissions and declared their support for ongoing initiatives towards a mercury-free small-scale gold mining in the Philippines.

The call came during a media briefing jointly organized by BFSSMI in collaboration with Ban Toxics, a non-profit environmental non-government organization promoting toxics use elimination, for the Northern Luzon launch of the NGO’s report entitled Chasing Mercury: Measuring Mercury Levels in Air Across the Philippines. The report was a product of a six-month monitoring and investigation of elemental mercury concentration in air in small-scale gold mining areas including those in Itogon, Benguet, hospitals, schools, and in various mercury hotspots in the country through the use of Lumex RA-915+ Portable Mercury Analyzer device.

“We have long recognized the overwhelming scientific evidence on the adverse effects of mercury to human health and the environment,” says Leoncio Na-oy, BFSSMI Secretary. “That is why more than five years ago, we started convincing our members to gravitate to mercury-free gold liberation techniques which are more effective and with less environmental impacts,” he added.

ASGM in the Philippines is known to emit at least 70 metric tonnes of mercury, accounting for more than 30 percent of the country’s annual mercury emission. Mercury use in ASGM is said to have been taking place for more than three decades.

“Mercury pollution in air is also a major concern because inhalation of mercury vapor can cause irreversible damage to the lungs, “ explained Gil Viloria, Jr., Hg ASGM Coordinator of Ban Toxics. “When we conducted air emissions test in a miner’s barracks that used mercury, the reading was so high it went above the maximum level our equipment could read. Miners using mercury are thus dangerously exposed to this poison just by using it.”

The Ban Toxics’ report cited that one of the worst form of gold production which is the open burning of amalgams by small-scale gold miners have unduly exposed the miners and their families to the dangers of mercury. According to their study, background levels of mercury already exist. The continued and dangerous practice of using mercury and burning it in open fires heavily adds to the mercury that is already in the environment.

Mercury, a poisonous persistent pollutant capable of long-range transport and bio-accumulation also attacks the nervous system and brings complications such as loss of cognitive capacity and memory, and impaired neuro-muscular coordination, among others. Fetuses, children and women of child-bearing age are particularly vulnerable to mercury’s toxic threats.

During Ban Toxics’ tests in Benguet province, the group was able to detect high levels of mercury emissions in the miner’s barracks in Itogon. Mercury concentration in that particular site hit a maximum reading of 30,000 ng/m3, three-times the action level used by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in calling for immediate evacuation of a residential area due to mercury pollution.

BFSSMI recently issued a declaration, which called for a timely response to the issues currently besetting ASGM. The declaration was submitted to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) by the Philippine representatives during the recently concluded Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee (INC) 2 meeting held in Chiba, Japan last month. The INC 2 meeting is part of the ongoing discussions for a global treaty against mercury use. The proposed treaty has one of its elements the reduction and eventual elimination of mercury use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining, recognized as the largest mercury demand sector both locally and globally.

BFSSMI’s campaign against mercury use which commenced in 2005 has accordingly resulted in the reduction of mercury use from the sector by 90 percent.

“Our ultimate goal is that by 2015, we can safely declare that small-scale gold mining in Benguet is mercury free,” says Leoncio Naoy, BFSSMI Secretary.

The Ban Toxics study was supported by the Garfield Foundation and the European Commission through the European Environment Bureau. The report is also part of a global effort under the Zero Mercury Working Group to call for strong controls in global emissions of mercury.


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