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66 tonnes of mercury used annually in gold production


By Lucy Tandi – Tuesday 20 October 2020

LOCAL – HARARE (Mining Index) – A MAXIMUM of 66 tonnes of mercury (Hg) is estimated to be used by the Artisanal and Small-scale Miners (ASM) during gold production per annum during peak mining periods, Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF) chief executive officer Wellington Takavarasha revealed this during a presentation on the Minamata Ratification Sensitisation Workshop in Kadoma today.

The workshop was aimed at sensitising parliament to push government to ratify the Minamata Convention.

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.

“An estimated 66 tonnes – maximum (peak)-minimum 22 tonnes of Hg is being utilised per annum. 1-3 grams of mercury is lost to the environment for every gram of gold produced,” said Takavarasha.

He indicated Zimbabwe is in the top 10 countries using mercury in gold production.

“Significant Hg pathways include areas were mercury is squeezed at copper plates, amalgamation ponds, amalgam barrels, amalgam smelting sites, gold shafts and near homes as evidenced in the Makaha area,” said Takavarasha.

ASM gold miners use mercury because it is easily accessible at US$10 per 25ml bottle. Hg is also easy to use during gold production as one person can use it.

He said most ASM are not aware of the dangers of mercury to both human life and the environment.

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.

Takavarasha highlighted the roadmap to mercury use in Zimbabwe noting formalisation and regularisation of the ASM sector as the best possible way to ease the use of mercury.

He also noted the need for ASM gold miners to improve mining practices; introducing mercury free processing; ASGM education and awareness; policy governance reform; ratification of the Minamata Convention; use of Personal Protective (Equipment PPE); institute a Statutory Instrument (SI) on Mercury and resource various mining institutions such as Environmental Management Agency (EMA), Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), Ministry of Health and Child Care, Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, ZMF, and research schools.

He however pointed out that ‘total elimination of mercury pollution is not as simple as legally restructuring and banning the use of mercury. Miners should be made aware of the reliable alternatives that will make their operations viable and accessible.’

Of a total estimate of 1.5 million ASM in Zimbabwe, a paltry 35 000 ASM have registered in terms of the Mines and Minerals Act, who have contributed over 60 percent of the national gold deliveries to Fidelity Printers and Refiners (FPR) from 2017 to date. ENDS//

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