Social Protection, GGMC join forces on addressing mercury incident

The Ministry of Social Protection has partnered with the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) to address measures and concerns surrounding the mercury emissions incident at the latter’s Brickdam office, as the government awaits the arrival of a PAHO team.

According to a post on the Ministry of Social Protection’s Facebook page on Tuesday, an inter-agency committee comprising the Department of Occupational Safety and Health of the Ministry of Social Protection along with the National Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), and the GGMC, along with representative staff has been formed.

The post added that the team has been working on measures and methods of addressing concerns about the environment to ensure that there is no threat to the workers who were exposed to mercury emissions within the area.

The committee is expected to be joined by the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) team which was invited by the government, and according to sources, will be arriving in the country early this week. The team will undertake a number of critical assignments, including determining the safety of the environment and making recommendations on best practices. They will also analyse the data and provide the government with periodic updates which will chart the way forward.

The Central Board of Health is also expected to begin working closely with the GGMC and other stakeholders, inclusive of the wider mining sector, on programmes to provide life-protecting strategies against mercury exposure.

Two weeks ago, Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence and Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman held an emergency press conference at the Ministry of Presidency where they announced that two teams had been invited from PAHO to assist with the investigation.

Lawrence had also indicated that they will be working with various other sister agencies to provide clearer data.  The press conference had come after two more deaths of GGMC employees and questions about a possible link to mercury contamination.

“This meeting was called with regards to the mercury issue emanating from the GGMC and the GGB [Guyana Gold Board] staff, but more particularly due to the issues that surround this problem which emanated in the press giving speculative information to the public without the documentation from the pathologist indicating that a former member of staff died from the exposure of mercury,” Lawrence said, while emphasising that they saw it fit to collaborate with their sister agencies to ensure that guidance on the issue can be provided, as well as the technical skills which are required for the investigation. There also has to be a determination on the challenges and gaps that are faced by the agencies, with the aim of finding solutions to them.

The first PAHO team will assist with ascertaining the mercury levels at the GGMC and GGB compound, as well as to give a validation on the pronouncements which were made by the local investigating bodies.

The second team will look at the various aspects of dealing with mercury emissions, including the protocols and standards, and will work along with the GGMC and GGB to ensure that all the necessary standards are put in place, adhered to, and done in a way which will make the workers comfortable.

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