Mercury phase out set

Guyana will from this year begin implementing measures to phase out the use of mercury in mining, Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr. Roger Luncheon announced yesterday.

“Between 2013 and 2022, Guyana would exercise a phasing in of restrictions against importation and restrictions

Roger Luncheon
Roger Luncheon

against the use of mercury in mining,” Luncheon told reporters at his weekly post-Cabinet briefing yesterday, the Government Information Agency (GINA) reported.

Miners have used mercury to separate gold for decades, but part of it is lost in the process, contaminating rivers and soils. The use of mercury, which is toxic to human health and the environment, in gold mining is governed by strict regulations here but compliance is another matter.

Mercury is primarily used to create an amalgam with the gold, and is later heated to separate it. In the process of heating, unless a retort is used, the mercury then enters the atmosphere, and precipitates back into the water, from where it enters the ecosystem, and the food chain. A retort is a closed container, which traps and condenses the mercury vapour without releasing it into the atmosphere.

However, some miners use mercury in sluice boxes which eventually leads to the pits being spiked. This system of mercury use is particularly dangerous, as it introduces mercury directly into the water system. Countries such as the United States and the European Union have already banned the export of mercury.

GINA reported yesterday that Cabinet has considered a document from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment on the readiness of the international community to establish the international agreement on banning the use of mercury in the mining industry. He said that the terms and conditions as it relates to the negative impacts of mercury use was clearly established by Cabinet members.

In January, governments in Geneva, Switzerland agreed to a landmark legally-binding global treaty to prevent emissions and releases of mercury, a notorious heavy metal that has significant health and environmental effects.

The agreement, which will require countries to draw up strategies to reduce the amount of mercury used by small-scale miners within three years, was hailed by Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Persaud as consistent with what had been advocated by the Latin America and Caribbean regional sub-grouping. He had told Stabroek News at the time that the position of that sub-grouping was to have a period of phasing out and not an immediate ban on mercury products and financial and technical support to help countries in the region transition from the use of mercury.

A statement from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) at the time, said that some 140 countries have committed to the Minamata Convention, agreeing to ban the production, export and import of a range of mercury containing products by 2020.

Yesterday, GINA reported that the international instrument that was proposed by the Ministry would see Guyana conforming to those terms and conditions by 2022. Recognising the human health and environmental risks, the Government of Guyana is working to gradually phase out its use, GINA said.

The alternatives to mercury in alluvial gold mining that is done in Guyana are not cheap nor are readily accessible by the many small miners at the level of the exploitation of small claims, GINA reported.

Luncheon said that within the international instrument that would ultimately ban mercury in gold mining and in other industrial uses was the call and the expected commitment for financing to be provided to countries like Guyana where the issue of alternatives to the use of mercury essentially has dominant financial implications.

The Natural Resources Ministry, working closely with the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) has been looking at ways through which miners can be further incentivised for incorporating mercury-free technologies into their practices, GINA reported.

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