Judith Phiri, Business Reporter
THE Environmental Management Agency (Ema) has stepped up efforts to reduce the use of mercury by artisanal and small-scale gold miners with a long-term plan of eliminating as well as substituting the substance.
Ema senior environmental education, training and publicity officer Mr Rambwayi Mapako said the continued use of mercury posed a serious threat to the environment and human life.
“Small-scale gold mining is one of the major mercury release or emission source in Zimbabwe as major studies on the effects of mercury have been done and revealed that mercury was being used by an estimated 1,5 million small-scale miners. On average the calculations done proved that more than 50 tonnes of mercury are being used annually in gold processing and presumably producing up to 20 tonnes of gold per year,’’ said Mr Mapako.
He said there was growing and widespread concern over the negative effects of mercury despite the role it plays in the production of metals and mining of gold.
“Mercury has negative effects on human health and environment, although the effects may be seen later in our offspring, but they are harmful to our future generations. Hence, over 200 meetings were held throughout the country targeting specifically small-scale miners to educate them on the safe precaution measure to undertake when handling or using mercury. There has been a positive and encouraging response from the small-scale gold mining sector and they are more than willing to embrace any alternatives which are not harmful to their health and the environment,” he said.
Zimbabwe signed the Minamata Convention in October 2013, which is a global treaty to protect human health and environment from the adverse effects of mercury.
Mr Mapako added that artisanal and small-scale gold miners had to use alternative gravity concentration methods as the country is working towards ratification of the convention.
“As part of the ratification process, we need to identify and examine the control measures that we need to put in place to meet the key obligations under the convention and how best to ensure that these are effective and sustainable.
“Through the effective implementation of the convention, Zimbabwe will benefit from new and updated information about the mercury situation in the country and from increased capacity in managing the risks associated with the use of mercury,” said Mr Mapako.
He said small-scale miners could use spiral concentrators, vortex concentrators and centrifuges among others as alternative methods instead of mercury.
Besides emitting mercury into rivers, small-scale gold miners also stand accused of rampant environmental degradation through the indiscriminate digging of shafts in search of the yellow metal.
The shafts, if not reclaimed, will result in siltation of rivers and dams in areas predominated by small-scale gold mining activities.