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Mercury control program launched in Bicol mining sites

By Danny O. Calleja

DAET, Camarines Norte, May 27 -– A non-government organization (NGO) is helping local government units (LGUs) in three gold-rich towns of the region reduce their waste of mercury, a toxic chemical commonly used in gold-ore processing which has been heavily polluting small-scale mining communities in Bicol.

The Manila-based Ban Toxics! has put in a place in the municipalities of Paracale, Jose Panganiban and Labo, all in Camarines Norte, a project dubbed “Reducing Mercury Pollution in Small-Scale Gold Mining Philippines 2011-2014.”

To formalize the entry and implementation of the project, a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was signed during its launching here over the week by Mayors Romeo Moreno of Paracale, Ricarte Padilla of Jose Panganiban and Dindo Pardo of Labo and Executive Director Richard Gutierrez for the environmental group.

During the launching ceremony, Gutierrez explained that Ban Toxics! works closely with local, national and international environmental, academic and trade institutions using both local and international campaigning, capacity-sharing and bridge-building between advocates in the Philippines and throughout the world to attain the goal of eliminating toxic wastes pollutions.

Also signatories to the MOA are Dr. Rasmus Koster-Rasmussen of Denmark’s University of Copenhagen-Department of International Health, Immunology and Microbiology (UC-DIHIM) and Dr. Marie Brasholt, project coordinator of Dialogos, a Danish international organization working with the Ban Toxics!

The implementation of the project is also in cooperation with the National Geographical Survey of Denmark and Federation of Small-Scale Gold Miners (FSGM) based in Benguet, Mountain Province, according to Gutierrez.

Its modes of implementation involve, among others, the orientation on mercury pollution and skills development for local health workers in diagnosing of mercury poisoning cases, first aid and proper manner of attending to victims to be provided by experts from the UC-DIHIM. Information, education and communication (IEC) materials will also be made available, he said.

According to Rasmussen, the immediate symptoms of mercury poisoning include mild fever and body pains while contamination among children result to lower mental capability or intelligence quotient (IQ), nerve and reproductive disorders and other effects that require thorough and proper examinations.

The training of the local health workers who would serve as the frontline workers in dealing with the health aspects of the project is a must for its implementation “as we believe that proper health care services are the best weapon in combating this health menace,” Brasholt stressed.

The project through the FSGM will also provide training among small-scale miners on the proper handling of mercury towards clean gold mining practices to avoid toxic contamination inside and outside the mining sites, Gutierrez said.

Latest studies conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), he said revealed that the small-scale gold mining sector in the country was the biggest cause of mercury pollution in the environment especially in mining villages where some 70 tons of mercury are used yearly.

Gold processing techniques in the country range from the customary gold panning method and use of sluice box to the more sophisticated method like mercury amalgamation and cyanidation that result to indiscriminate discharge of the chemical wastes to rivers, streams and other waterways at the mining sites with consequence damage on crops, properties and even lives.

Aside from reducing mercury use in the area, the project will also look into the effects of mercury in the lower streams particularly the rice producing areas of the three gold-mining towns, Gutierrez added.

Under the MOA, the three LGUs will extend all the necessary supports to the implementation of the project by way of among others providing accommodations and security to the Ban Toxics! workers and equipment to be fielded in their respective municipalities.

“We are grateful to this environmental group and its foreign partners for bringing the project to our localities as we are optimistic, this will effectively address the lingering problem on mercury contaminations confronting hundreds of our small-scale miners including children and the communities they belong,” Padilla said. (PNA)

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