The Artisanal & Small Mining Africa-Network (ASMAN) a civil society organization focused on the development and promotion of responsible and Artisanal and Small Scale Gold Mining (ASGM) in Ghana, is alarmed that the inability of government, to institute a policy that will regulate and eventually abolish the use of mercury by Small Scale Miners in the country, may cause many operators in the industry to die from the long term and bio accumulated effects of been exposed to the amalgam (mixture of gold and mercury)
Director of Research and Policy of the group, Edward Kwasi Akuoko, expressed the fear during an encounter with the media, at the end of a two- day roundtable forum for Africa countries on reducing environmental health impact of harmful pollutants in the Africa region, held between 29th and 30th April 2014, at the World Bank offices in Accra, Ghana.
Mr. Akuoko told news men that the practice which is most common among the larger populace of Small Scale mining operators is having a gradual but serious toll on the lives of individual small scale mining operators in the country.
He reiterated that proven studies by some scientist, researchers and medical doctors in the country and across the globe has revealed that most of the miners who complain of coloured skin and itching, insomnia and hypertension etc have had some form of exposure to mercury or amalgam over a long period of time.
Mercury exposure in ASGM communities is associated with adverse health effects including Kidney dysfunction, auto immune dysfunction, and neurological symptoms. Urinary mercury Concentrations in ASGM communities are above the concentrations that have been associated with neurologic and kidney effects. Fish, a major source of protein for many populations in ASGM areas, are contaminated with methyl mercury.
Mr. Akuoko further explained that although research has so far not revealed any instant reaction to mercury exposure, it is known to be a slow “killer” and therefore its use must be discouraged, adding that the long term effects on the operators, the surrounding communities and the eco-system is very devastating and harmful.
The ASMAN Director of Research & Policy expressed disappointment that previous efforts at controlling the effects of mercury use through the use of the retort bottle by Small Scale Miners did not work, adding that new strategies need to be adopted to safeguard the health of operators, communities and the ecosystem.
He therefore called on government and the regulatory agencies such as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Minerals Commission to as a matter of urgency, put in place a programme to not only educate Small Scale Miners (SSM) on the dangers of using the product, but also assist, motivate and build their capacity to adopt and apply alternative mercury free methods used in gold recovery such as the direct smelting and cyanide processing methods.
As a long tern measure, Mr. Akuoko said government should expedite action in signing and ratifying the Minamata Convention which became effective in January 2013 and prohibits the use of mercury in mining.
Article seven C of the Minamata Convention which has so far been signed and ratified by over 90 countries across the globe, enjoins governments to agree to a legally binding text on mercury, whiles annex C requires countries to develop national plans for ASGM.
Edward Akuoko commended The World bank and the EPA for the opportunity afforded the various countries in the region to deliberate on how best to manage pollution of all forms in the respective countries.
He further called on them to support civil society groups to champion the vision for a mercury free industrial and mining sector.
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