GWI to test for mercury in rivers near mining communities

The Guyana Water Inc. (GWI) will soon begin testing the mercury content of rivers which are the main source of water supply for mining communities, after sections of the Kaituma River revealed high levels of mercury content.

GWI has said that tests, which were performed in May, found high levels of mercury content in the Kaituma River, making it unsafe for domestic use. As a result, it has ceased pumping water from it to residents and plans to activate two wells in the community at Turn Basin and Citrus Grove.

When questioned at GWI’s mid-year review press conference last week Friday, on whether the company will be testing other communities, where mining activities are conducted within their vicinities, Managing Director of GWI, Dr Richard Van West-Charles answered in the affirmative.

“…Especially where we are using the [river] water as a source. But also, I think it is important, among the agencies, especially where populations are existing along the rivers,” he said, while noting that they will also be looking as to how they manage the watersheds around the country.

“We have to have a programme to look at watersheds generally across the country to ensure that the water is safe…and as a people we have to desist from throwing all sorts of things into our waterways and we have to dispose of things in a proper manner to protect our population,” he added.

Van West-Charles restated that GWI has done some analysis of samples taken from the river and the results have shown levels of 0.016mg/L, which is higher than the accepted World Health Organisation (WHO) standard of 0.006mg/L.  He explained that they are currently taking samples from other areas, both upstream and downstream in Port Kaituma, and will also be testing the fish to ascertain the levels of mercury in the river.

He noted that GWI has also been communicating with the regional administration, as well as the Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC), and has been working along with them to rehabilitate the two wells so that the residents will be able to have a safe and reliable supply of clean water. 

The samples which were taken from the different areas – upstream and downstream – have since been sent to the Kaizen Environmental Services’ laboratory in Trinidad and Tobago and the Institute of Applied Science and Technology’s (IAST) laboratory at the University of Guyana, and the pronouncements on their findings should be known by next week.

Commissioner of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) Newell Dennison had previously told Stabroek News that the GGMC will be partnering with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and GWI to investigate the reportedly high levels of mercury found in the Kaituma River.

“This situation… is something we intend on investigating and to collaborate with the GWI and the EPA in that investigation because we would want to, as far as possible, determine at least what the levels of mercury contamination is—if there really is—and to see what mitigating measures we can put in place to treat that,” Dennison had said at the time.

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