EMA red flags mercury use in Midlands

The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has urged gold miners in the Midlands province to manage the use of mercury, which impacts negatively on health and the environment.

BY STEPHEN CHADENGA

Speaking during a tour of small-scale gold milling operations around the province last week, EMA senior environmental publicity officer, Rambwayi Mapako, said miners should be aware of the Minamata Convention, which aims to eradicate the dangers associated with exposing people to mercury.

It emerged during the tour that few artisanal miners had an appreciation of the risks associated with the use of mercury, with most of them also lacking protective clothing among other safety measures.

“Major studies on the effects of mercury have been done in Zimbabwe and these include the Global Mercury Project, which was done from 2002 to 2007 and the 2015 diagnostic report on environmental health implication of mercury in artisanal small scale gold mining in Zimbabwe,” Mapako said.

He said on average, over 50 tonnes of mercury is used annually in gold processing, adding that studies on the environmental and human health assessments showed that gold stamp milling centres were the main centres of mercury pollution.

Mapako noted that studies had shown that 70% of miners involved with amalgam burning were poisoned with mercury, while those not directly working with the chemical like women and children were found with traces of mercury in their bodies.

“High levels of mercury were found in breast milk in the Kadoma and Chakari areas, which unduly exposes breast-feeding infants,” he said.

“About 69% of children working with mercury and 33% not working with mercury had chronic mercury intoxication. The effects of exposure to mercury are quite often toxic and irreversible, with young children facing the greatest level of risk.”

The 2013 Minamata Convention on Mercury, named after the Japanese city of Minamata, is an international treaty designed to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.

Over the years, the discharge of dangerous substances such as mercury and cyanide has led to the loss of animal life in the Midlands province.


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