The People’s Progressive Party today expressed concern at what it said was the untimely deaths of four Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) staffers – Dwayne De Jonge (ranger), Latchman Chiti (surveyor), Leroy Green (carpenter) and Clement Proffit (lab technician). The opposition party said that the deaths of these staffers, who were documented to have been affected by mercury poisoning, made it clear that every effort must be made to ensure that working conditions at the GGMC are safe.
For several months there has been unrest at the GGMC Headquarters on Brickdam over the possibility that mercury fumes from the now removed Guyana Gold Board (GGB) lab could have led to mercury poisoning of several GGMC staffers who have died. The lab was removed after several days of protests by workers. The families of the dead GGMC workers have not publicly made a case that their relatives died of mercury poisoning, The GGMC has also not addressed this issue neither has the Ministry of Social Protection.
In its statement today, the PPP said “These four deaths, which follow each other in such a short period of time, should be a cause for serious concern. It is disturbing that the government and the GGMC have been reluctant to inform the staff and public about actions taken to ensure protection of, not only staffers, but also those in surrounding communities. This is not a political issue. The PPP will support the Government of Guyana to ensure that every effort is made to guarantee the health and safety of our people.
“Our expression of condolences to the families and co-workers of these men is, as it must be, supported by calls for measures to be taken to reduce the risks to other staff and residents in the neighbouring communities.
“We, therefore, urge immediate action by the relevant authorities, including the management of the GGMC and the Ministry of Public Health, to ensure the occupational health and safety standards are in place and the welfare of all staff and citizens are protected. The GGMC and the Ministry of Public Health must also operationalize all precautionary measures including testing and appropriate treatment of all staff, and persons in neighbouring communities, whom may have been exposed. This should be done at the cost of the GGMC.
“The PPP/C also supports the sourcing of specialists to respond to this matter before it becomes a bigger public health crisis”.
Ministry of Natural Resources responds:
Ministry of Natural Resources and Other Government Agencies Already Responding to Mercury Situation – No Effort Or Expense Will Be Spared To Protect Workers
The Ministry of Natural Resources notes a curious press release issued by the PPP/C concerning the deaths of several Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) workers and wishes to place on record that no official or formal report of this matter has been received about these deaths being mercury related.
The Ministry of Natural Resources will await a report to this effect from the GGMC and will again engage the workers about any grievances that may exist. Further, there is simply no existing empirical data which establish that mercury is responsible for the deaths of miners and GGMC workers in recent times. However, efforts are already in train to scientifically establish whether there is such a link. No effort and no expense will be spared in pursuit of the truth and the protection of the workers.
The GGMC is a decades old institution and so too the use of mercury in mining, which has straddled several political administrations. Miners and workers of the GGMC and the Guyana Gold Board (GGB) have for many years been exposed to mercury at various levels and times both in the hinterland and in the city because of its widespread use in the amalgamation of gold. In the case of the workers of GGMC and the GGB, they have been affected through no fault of their own. With the signing and ratification of the Minamata Convention for the eradication of the use of mercury in mining, the Government of Guyana intends to address this matter frontally.
The Government has been working assiduously with, and through several Ministries and Agencies including, the EPA and Ministry of Social Protection, to ensure that the current issues are resolved to the satisfaction of the workers. The Ministry calls on the PPP not to play politics with the wellbeing of workers, but rather, to work with government to reduce and eradicate the use of mercury in mining – given that the negative impact of mercury use did not rear its head in 2018, but long before.