By AP HERNANDEZ
THE use of mercury in small-scale gold mining operations in the municipality of Jose Panganiban is now being monitored.
This was disclosed to MWBuzz by Mayor Ricarte, who is one of municipal leaders trying to control, if not eradicate, the use of mercury in the local gold-panning industry.
The monitoring activities are being carried out by a Manila-based non-governmental organization (NGO) Ban Toxics! with assistance from the municipal government.
A memorandum of agreement (MoA) was signed in Daet recently by Mayors Romeo Moreno of Paracale, Dindo Pardo of Labo, Padilla and executive director Richard Gutierrez for the environmental group.
Also signatories to the MoA were Dr Rasmus Koster-Rasmussen of Denmark’s University of Copenhagen-Department of International Health, Immunology and Microbiology (UC-DIHIM) and Dr Marie Brasholt, project coordinator of Dialogos, a Danish international organization working with the Ban Toxics!
The implementation of the project is also in cooperation with the National Geographical Survey of Denmark and Federation of Small-Scale Gold Miners (FSGM) based in Benguet, Mountain Province, according to Gutierrez.
The municipality of Jose Panganiban is one of the three gold-rich areas in Bicol region where mercury is heavily used by small-scale miners popular known as “gold panners” to extract gold.
Ban Toxics! said the four-year campaign, which will end in 2014, also covers the municipalities of Paracale and Labo.
Padilla told MWBuzz the effort to eradicate mercury from the local industry “would be a long process”.
He said that “we are just about to change their (small-scale operators) procedural system, which has been in practice ever since”.
Latest studies conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), revealed that the small-scale gold mining sector in the country was the biggest cause of mercury pollution in the environment, especially in mining villages where some 70 tons of mercury are used yearly.
Gold processing techniques in the country range from the customary gold panning method and use of sluice box to the more sophisticated method like mercury amalgamation and cyanidation that result to indiscriminate discharge of the chemical wastes to rivers, streams and other waterways at the mining sites with consequence damage on crops, properties and even lives.
Aside from reducing mercury use in the area, the project will also look into the effects of mercury in the lower streams particularly the rice producing areas of the three gold-mining towns, according to Executive Director Richard Gutierrez for the environmental group.
The municipal government will extend all the necessary supports to the implementation of the project by way of among others providing accommodations and security to the Ban Toxics! workers and equipment to be fielded in their respective municipalities.
“We are grateful to this environmental group and its foreign partners for bringing the project to our localities as we are optimistic, this will effectively address the lingering problem on mercury contaminations confronting hundreds of our small-scale miners including children and the communities they belong,” Padilla said.
According to Rasmussen, the immediate symptoms of mercury poisoning include mild fever and body pains while contamination among children result to lower mental capability or intelligence quotient (IQ), nerve and reproductive disorders and other effects that require thorough and proper examinations.
The training of the local health workers who would serve as the frontline workers in dealing with the health aspects of the project is a must for its implementation “as we believe that proper health care services are the best weapon in combating this health menace,” Brasholt stressed.
The project through the FSGM will also provide training among small-scale miners on the proper handling of mercury towards clean gold mining practices to avoid toxic contamination inside and outside the mining sites, Gutierrez said.