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Gold miners urged to adopt mercury-free mining methods

By Business Reporter

MINERS have been urged to adopt alternative methods of gold mining to curb use of mercury which has become a health hazard posing a serious threat to human and animal health.

This came out during the Annual Mining Business Symposium organised by the Institute for Sustainability Africa (INŚAF) held in Harare this week.

The event was attended by delegates from the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, Environmental Management Agency (EMA), experts from the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), the Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF) and various mining experts.

Such environmental injustices led to the Minamata Convention which Zimbabwe is a signatory to.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a global agreement aimed at reducing mercury pollution, which recognises risks of using mercury in gold mining, calling nations to reduce, and where feasible, eliminate mercury use.

Tashinga Kanyemba, a mining expert also advocated and outlined alternative methods that can be adopted to mine gold without use of mercury.

Various mercury-free methods of gold mining such as panning, sluicing, shaking tables, spiral concentrators, vortex concentrators, centrifuges, magnets, flotation and direct smelting can be adopted.

EMA revealed they are piloting mercury assessment programs to ascertain effects of mercury.

“We conducted a mercury use assessment where we wanted to find out how much mercury is in the country, what are the streams of use, where is it and the importance of the assessment to try and find the options whether the country is ready for ratifying the Convention and if we are ready what are the implications,” said EMA Environmental Impact Assessor (EIA) and Ecosystem Protection Manager Phanuel Mangisi.

“There is an issue of being ready then there is the issue of implications. Topical questions that are being asked are what the options are if we phase out mercury and if there are options what are the costs. There are studies that are still going on,” said Mangisi.

He called on for the assessment to have documented evidence on the effects so that people understand effects of the chemical.

Dangers of mercury to human health include loss of peripheral vision, lack of coordination, impairment of speech, hearing, walking;   muscle weakness and insomnia. Mercury also affects foetus when the exposure to pregnant women and affects new babies.

The country has been affected by use of mercury for gold mining with delegates asking Ministry of Mines and Mining Development and EMA to urgently find solutions to effects of the chemical.

“We need to scale up awareness of mercury. There were shocking revelations that were done and people don’t even know the effects of mercury especially in the long term.”

“Unfortunately those using mercury on a day to day basis don’t have information on the effects of mercury so we are in a serious problem. We have even joined hands with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development to try and educate the people,” said Mangisi.

There is need to ensure sustainable mining to keep the wheels of the economy running into the next generations hence need for environmental and animal life protection. ENDS

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