Amid unrelenting concerns over health dangers from mercury, the Guyana Gold Board’s (GGB) laboratory at Upper Brickdam was closed yesterday and alternative arrangements are to be made for purchasing of the precious metal.
A statement from the Ministry of Natural Resources yesterday said that following consultations with the Chairman and General Manager of the GGB, and being assured that the necessary arrangements have been put in place, Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman has directed that the burning of raw gold at the Gold Board’s laboratory, Upper Brickdam, Georgetown cease as of close of business yesterday. The statement said that miners will receive due notice of the alternative and authorised place or places at which they could sell their gold.
The statement follows weeks of unrest at the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) HQ which is located in the same compound with the gold board lab. GGMC employees had been expressing grave concern over their health because of their belief that mercury vapour from the burning of gold at lab posed an imminent danger to them as it builds up in the body and is toxic.
While it tried to assure staff that there was no cause for worry, the ministry eventually called in a Trinidadian firm, Kaizen Limited to test various parts of the compound for mercury. Staff working in the compound were also tested. At the end of the testing, the ministry and the Gold Board said the readings were within an acceptable range though there were anomalies that to be worked out. This did not satisfy staff who were adamant that other testing had shown dangerous levels and that there had been two deaths of employees which they believe was linked to the mercury emissions from the lab.
As a result, on Friday employees of the GGMC stayed away from the work and later that day, the ministry said that the lab would be relocated “within the shortest possible time”. On Monday, employees of the GGMC continued to stay away and lobbied for the removal of the lab and the situation remained the same yesterday.
In its statement yesterday, the Ministry said it and the GGB were thankful to management and workers of the GGMC and GGB for their patience and maturity in addressing this matter, and commended them for their “vigilant and strident action during this testing period”. The Ministry said that it and the Gold Board will continue to ensure that the “health and welfare of every worker will be treated with the highest importance and urgency”.
It added that the Government of Guyana also continues to work towards the implementation of the Minamata Convention that will see the significant reduction and subsequent eradication of the use of mercury by miners in the recovery and amalgamation of gold.
The statement said that the use of mercury negatively impacts lives and the environment wherever it is in use – whether in Georgetown, or in hinterland communities, and must be eradicated. To this end, the statement urged the various mining associations, Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association, Guyana Women Miners Organisation and the National Miners Syndicate to cooperate with the various government authorities to eliminate the scourge of mercury from the environment.
Miners have traditionally been resistant to the elimination of the use of mercury in amalgamation. It is the amalgamating that leads to the release of mercury during the burning of the metal at the Gold Board lab.