One month after the Guyana Gold Board (GGB) ceased burning raw gold in the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) Brickdam Complex due to health and safety concerns, the agency is asking for patience as it works to streamline its operations.
In a statement yesterday, GGB noted that they “are moving ahead with plans for permanent modern facilities at a new location.” They however did not provide a timeline and Communications Officer of the Ministry of Natural Resources, Johann Earle indicated that there is currently no timeline in place.
“The time is not clear as yet. There are a lot of moving parts and every day other considerations are coming into play but we will keep the public updated as the situation develops,” he said when contacted by Stabroek News.
The statement added that discussions on the way forward are engaging the highest levels of Government with a view to resolving the issues and that details of those arrangements will be disclosed at the appropriate time.
Currently, the burning of raw gold is being facilitated at a licenced dealer on a temporary basis and the GGB has expressed appreciation for the cooperation of miners and the general public.
Additionally the GGB has assured that Safety and Health remain paramount concerns to the agency, as well as to the government.
“As such, remedial actions are underway with a view to returning the situation to a state of normality in the shortest time possible. These include continuous testing for the presence of mercury, cleaning of the compound and equipment and fast-tracking arrangements for relocation of the GGB’s facilities and staff,” the statement explained.
The GGB and the Ministry of Natural Resources by extension, were forced to close the operations of the Gold Board’s lab, and stop the burning of gold, due to mounting pressure from the GGMC workers after high levels of mercury were found in the blood of a number of the employees.
A decision was made by the management of the Commission to boycott work and to continue doing so until the Gold Board’s lab had stopped its burning of amalgamated gold and a thorough cleanup was done.
During the course of the year, two employees died from kidney failure, cases which workers and the Union believe are linked to the high levels of mercury in the blood.
Their deaths are one of the main reasons that the employees and management decided to stay away from work.
According to the National Insurance Scheme, anything over the level of three microgrammes of mercury in the blood is considered as an industrial accident. According to some of the workers, most of the affected employees had levels of over five and some of them registered levels as high as 11.
Above normal levels of mercury can cause: mood swings, nervousness, irritability and other emotional changes, insomnia, headaches, abnormal sensations, muscle twitching, tremors, weakness, muscle atrophy and decreased cognitive functions.
Further exposure to mercury can also cause kidney malfunction and respiratory failure, which can both result in death.
In its statement yesterday the GGB noted that in keeping with Guyana’s commitment under the Minamata Convention the agency does not itself use mercury in any of its processes instead the Board deals with sponge gold and not amalgam gold.
Guyana signed on to the Minamata Convention, which aims to reduce the risks of mercury around the world, in October 2013 and President David Granger declared in 2017 that Guyana takes the protection of its environment very seriously and it is time for firmer action to be taken to prevent environmental degradation and loss of human lives.
“I think that it is very important because the reckless use of mercury could be harmful to the population and, of course, it can cause damage that would last a very long time. It is my intention not just to reduce, but to eliminate the use of mercury in the mining industry,” the President is quoted in the statement as having said.