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Mining and EnvironmentNews

As the August deadline draws near, is Zimbabwe ready to adopt mercury-free gold mining methods?

By Features Reporter – Wednesday 29 January 2020

HARARE (Mining Index) – EXPERTS say the on-going investment in traditional custom milling is investing in a dead-end technology, a high financial risk to the Zimbabwean economy.

Government needs to intensify measures to promote production of mercury-free gold by August this year as stipulated in the Minamata Convention.

Consequences of non-compliant to the Minamata Convention will lead to over a million artisanal miners and their families losing the basis for their livelihood while the Zimbabwean economy fiscal regime is projected to lose foreign exchange in the magnitude of almost two billion United States Dollars (US$).

According to the Minamata Convention, no traditional custom mill will be allowed to use mercury after August 2020.

The Convention further alludes that countries with non-compliant gold production will be banned from the international trade.

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

In traditional custom milling, mercury is mixed with gold-containing materials, forming a mercury-gold amalgam which is then heated, vaporizing the mercury to obtain the gold.

Environmentalists have in recent years been advocating for the adoption of mercury-free gold extraction methods, friendly to the environment.

Countrywide production of ‘greengold’ by August 2020 has also been set as a pre-condition for Zimbabwe´s much desired re-accreditation into the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA).

Zimbabwe’s re-joining the London association will put Zimbabwe among the elite group of gold producers in the world and enjoy benefits derived from trading on this prestigious platform. Zimbabwe will also appear on London Bullion’s Good Delivery List, used by precious metals exchanges around the world to identify refiners whose gold and silver bars are accepted in their own markets.

 The magnitude of impact of mercury use in Zimbabwe has been huge. Extensive use of mercury and gold detectors by artisanal and small-scale gold miners in Zimbabwe has caused serious environmental injustices posing risk to livestock and human health, leaving scars of environmental damage resulting from exploration, extraction and processing of minerals, that require millions of dollars to correct.

Zimbabwe needs to urgently address and put strategies for promoting the reduction of emissions and releases of, and exposure to, mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining and processing by adopting mercury-free methods.

These strategies must ensure effective management of trade and preventing the diversion of mercury and mercury compounds used in artisanal and small scale gold mining and processing.

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. ENDS//

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