The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and technical staff of the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT) are expected to meet soon to discuss the recent detection of high blood mercury levels among the telephone company’s staff.
“Following contact made by GTT, we have contacted the Ministry of [Public] Health to coordinate the response, and efforts are afoot, as Dr. Shamdeo Persaud has been engaged and a meeting is being planned,” Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman told Stabroek News yesterday, when contacted.
“As before, the Ministry of Social Protection will be involved. I expect a meeting will take place very soon between the technical staff of the various entities,” Trotman added.
GTT’s Head Office is located on Brickdam, next door to the compound shared by the Guyana Gold Board (GGB) and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC). The Company said that it had written to the Ministry of Natural Resources earlier this month after receiving a medical report of levels of mercury in an employee.
“Early August we received a medical report from an employee which indicated levels of mercury in his system. GTT commissioned a random sample testing of members of staff after receiving this report and there were mixed results,” the company said.
Efforts to contact both GTT’s CEO Justin Nedd and its Public Relations Officer Jasmin Harris for further comment proved futile as multiple calls to their mobile numbers went unanswered.
This newspaper understands that a female employee’s medical tests also revealed high levels of mercury and she has been given an accumulated total of 39 days in sick leave.
Other employees are also worried because some have said that from earlier this year, workers had been complaining of feeling unwell and some had also visited medical specialists, but no testing for mercury had been performed.
“I did not think about doing a mercury test because we do not deal with mercury and even though we heard about the boys next door that never even came to mind,” one employee yesterday told this newspaper.
“Persons are worried now and I think most will go and get independent testing because this is serious,” another added.
In April of this year, after mounting pressure from GGMC workers, who boycotted work after some tests showed that there was a high level of mercury emissions around the compound, the Ministry of Natural Resources was called in.
The GGB subsequently ceased its operations and Kaizen Environmental Services, which was contracted to test the environment, declared that it was safe. However, the GGMC’s Environmental Department carried out further tests which showed there were still high levels of emissions in certain areas.
The situation was further compounded with the deaths of four GGMC workers, within the last seven months, which were suspected to have been related to mercury emissions.
As a result, Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence and Trotman announced that they had invited two teams from PAHO to assist with ascertaining the safety of the area.
Based on the request by the Government of Guyana for assistance from PAHO/WHO, a team from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) of the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) visited and conducted assessments.
Trotman said that following the discussions with the phone company, Cabinet will be briefed to determine the way forward.
“The MNR is taking all mercury related matters very seriously and [they are] to be treated with the highest priority. Even though government is not the user of mercury, various ministries have responsibility for its importation and use in the mining sector,” he said. .
“As the Ministry responsible for mining we believe we have to take the lead on behalf of government. This is quite different from assuming liability, but government will not shirk its responsibility if it is established that apart from the use by miners, we are contributory liable. As soon as more facts are known I will approach Cabinet to provide a brief and receive guidance,” he added.