Govt moves to ban rampant mercury use

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Sindiso Mhlophe

ENVIRONMENT minister Mangaliso Ndlovu says the government is working towards a framework to ban the use of mercury, which is rampant among small-scale miners and poses health risks, the Daily News reports.

This comes as various stakeholders have called on the government to regulate the use of mercury, which is toxic to both humans and animals.

Speaking during a workshop on the Minamata Convention on Mercury International Treaty and the Kigali Amendment of the Montreal Protocol recently, Ndlovu said government was working on a framework to phase out the use of mercury.

He urged small-scale gold miners to stop using mercury and find alternative technologies for gold processing.

“I would like to appeal to the leadership of the small-scale gold miners to raise awareness to your membership of the dangers of using mercury. Related to that, I also appeal to you to research alternative technologies available for gold processing,” Ndlovu said.

According to the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (Zela), about 400 000 artisanal miners in the country were currently using mercury in gold extraction.

“Mercury is a chemical of global and national concern owing to its long-range atmospheric transport, its persistence in the environment, its ability to bio-accumulate in ecosystems and its significant negative effects on human health and the environment.

“However, despite its negative environment and health effects in Zimbabwe and the world over, mercury is widely used by artisanal and small-scale gold miners and the sector is the major source of air and water mercury pollution

“Even though the use of mercury is widely practised by artisanal and small-scale miners, awareness of the environment and health impacts caused by mercury is still very low among the miners and the general public,” Zela’s executive director Mutuso Dhliwayo said.

He said studies have shown that 70 percent of miners involved with amalgam burning in Zimbabwe were poisoned with mercury, while those not directly working with the chemical, like women and children, were found with traces in their bodies, thereby exposing breast-fed infants.

“Children are more susceptible to mercury poisoning than adults because their brains are still developing. Children poisoned by mercury may suffer from brain damage, mental retardation, blindness, seizures and inability to speak.

For pregnant women, exposure to high levels of mercury can result in permanent damage to a developing foetus and cause miscarriages as well,” he said.

Zimbabwe is yet to ratify the Minamata Convention of 2013 which bans the use of mercury and its products.

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