Amid speculation that his death might have been linked to mercury poisoning, an autopsy has found that Clement Proffitt, a Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) lab technician who passed away last week, died of tuberculosis.
Earlier in the year, Dwayne De Jonge, a ranger, and Leroy Greene, a carpenter, had passed away and there had been suspicion that their deaths were related to the high levels of mercury found in some of the workers operating in and around the GGMC building on Brickdam.
The two men’s deaths were a major factor in the GGMC employees boycotting work, which forced the closure of the office and brought an end to the Guyana Gold Board burning gold in the compound.
However, it was revealed yesterday by relatives that Proffitt, 59, died of tuberculosis.
Another GGMC worker, Latchman Chiti, who was a surveyor, died a few days after.
Proffitt’s relatives yesterday related that they are confused since the post-mortem examination revealed that he died as a result of tuberculosis.
“To be honest, I don’t know what to think. The post-mortem said tuberculosis. He was sick and ill for a couple of months and he was admitted at the Georgetown [Public] Hospital and then he was put in a chest clinic. I don’t know what to do ’cause he left me in charge and I am confused about the whole issue,” one of Proffitt’s relatives, who did not want to be named, explained.
The relative explained that while the family was aware of the issue surrounding troubling mercury emissions at the GGMC, no attempts were made to do a toxicology test on the man’s remains and he has since been buried.
Representative of the Guyana Civil Servants and General Workers Union, Unata DeFreitas had told this newspaper last Friday that the union was looking into the issue. She had confirmed the recent passing of the two workers and had indicated that preliminary suspicions were pointing to kidney failure.
She had also said that while there was no conclusive evidence to show that high levels of mercury in the men’s blood would have contributed to their deaths, they were awaiting the results of tests that were done on Chiti to ascertain whether his death was caused by high levels of mercury.
De Freitas said the untimely deaths of the men have also reinforced calls to have proper and thorough certification of the GGMC headquarters and compound before any talk of normalcy returning.
The Ministry of Natural Resources, in a statement on Friday, had stated that no official report had been received about the deaths of the four men being mercury related and that it was waiting on a report from the GGMC.
The Ministry added that there is no existing empirical data which shows that the workers’ deaths are directly related to mercury.
Over 200 workers were tested for mercury in their blood level and a majority was found with varying levels. Most of them were sent on sick leave and they are still being treated.
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.