Walkout shuts down GGMC’s Brickdam office

-after claims of higher levels of mercury on premises than reported

Raphael Trotman

The Guyana Geology and Mines Commission’s (GGMC) Brickdam Office was shut down yesterday morning after scores of workers walked out, in protest against the ongoing mercury burning at the Guyana Gold Board (GGB) lab.

A source close to the issue reported yesterday that contrary to the claims made by officials, tests conducted at the office showed high levels of mercury in certain areas at the Commission. They stated, too, that the majority of affected employees registered high mercury levels within their systems.

“Yes, you’ve heard the minister say that its fish and people’s diet and Kaizen [Environmental Services] said the place is safe but even today the guys tested and it was high. The GGMC Environmental Department carried out tests that proved there was high level of emissions in certain areas. They didn’t get to test everywhere but one of the main areas is where [the] chimney is and it was high,” the source related.

According to the source, the National Insurance Scheme accepts anything above the level 3 as an industrial accident and many employees have seen the mercury level in their body show a level of 25 and under.

“Less than quarter of the staff have below 5 and more than 100 were tested. The Minister is talking about the readings but the Gold Board is still burning,” the source said, while noting that many workers were also on leave.

Stabroek News was told that the GGMC’s Board met yesterday with the Commissioner of GGMC and mandated him to write to the Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman to cease the operations of the lab immediately. Following the board’s meeting, there was a managerial meeting, during which it was decided that the environment was unsafe to work in and staff were subsequently given the directive to vacate the premises immediately.

The source explained that the managers based their decisions around the occupational health and safety rules which state that employees should not have to work in an unsafe environment, which they pointed out the Commission office was deemed to be after tests were run within GGMC’s Environmental Depart-ment.

While the source was unable to state the exact number of employees that left yesterday, he explained that a majority of the staff are already on sick leave due to having higher than normal levels of mercury in their systems and stated that only about 12 persons stayed back to finish off important work.

He said that the workers do not want to return to work until the place is safe. When questioned about what they consider as “safe”, the source pointed out that the workers want the GGB’s Lab to cease its operations and either move it to another safer location or change their approach and find another way of burning the gold where the emissions will not be in its current gaseous state, which he noted is very dangerous.

“Once the Gold Board continues to burn it then we will not work. We will pass probably on Monday to see what’s going on but it’s currently unsafe. They have to test the mercury every day and everywhere. Not just some days, especially since it’s still burning,” the source said.

“It has to stop or they have to do something about the mercury emissions. If they have a system that does not emit mercury then yes, we would work. They could buy a condenser that will condense the mercury into its liquid state which is less harmful,” the source added, while stating that there are still traces of mercury on the walls, carpets and other places and the entire area has to be “washed down, fumigated or sanitised” before they return to work.

Last week Trotman had stated that after tests from Kaizen Environmental Service showed that “things are normal.”

Chairman of the GGB, GHK Lall had also stated that the report from the company showed that the results are “comforting” and emphasised that they are taking the issue seriously.

Nonetheless, Trotman last Saturday appointed an expert committee in the review of the operations of the laboratory. The committee has also been mandated to examine suitable and secure sites for the relocation of the laboratory and to make recommendations accordingly

Stabroek News made attempts to contact Trotman, GGMC Commissioner Newell Dennison and Chairman of the Board of the GGMC Stanley Ming but was unsuccessful.

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