Govt steps up efforts to reduce mercury use in artisanal mines

06Jul 2019
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Govt steps up efforts to reduce mercury use in artisanal mines

THE government has stepped up efforts to reduce the use of mercury in small gold mines as substantial amounts of the chemical get into the country irregularly each year, affecting hundreds of thousands of miners.

Speaking in Dodoma recently during the mining stakeholders’ meeting coordinated by the Vice President's Office, the Acting Director in the Department of Environment, Faraja Ngerageza said the government has already approved and implementing the national action plan to reduce the use of mercury in the mines by 30 percent by 2024 as part of these efforts.

Ngerangeza said that mercury is used more by artisanal gold miners and is estimated that 25 to 35 percent of the miners are affected by the chemicals.

"More than 1.2 million people are involved in mining sector whereby 13.2 to 20 tonnes of mercury chemicals are used in gold processing," he stated.

Speaking at the meeting, mining stakeholder Noela Magoche advised the government and stakeholders to consider alternative methods to save the miners, including children working in the mines.

He said children are the biggest victims of mercury while insisting that the law prohibits employment for children, especially in the mining industry.

Mercury is said to be one of the 10 most hazardous chemicals listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and has serious effects on the neurological system. Inhalation of elemental mercury vapours can cause neurological and behavioural disorders such as tremors, emotional instability, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular changes and headaches. They can also harm the kidneys and the thyroid gland.

Tanzania is estimated to have 1.2 million artisanal miners whereby 20 to 30 per cent of them are female and most of them use mercury in the processing of minerals, especially gold.

It is also estimated that a total of 13 to 24 tons are used and are imported in a non-stop way.

It is used in washing the sand and obtaining the gold, which is later placed in sandy and watery cotton and handled so that the chemical can detach the mineral from the soil.

Along with its importance in completing the chain of operations in making gold available especially for small-scale miners, it is a hazardous chemical for human health and the environment.

The world's chemical pollution levels continue to increase as a result of the burning of coal and mineral extraction and processing through unsafe means.

Mercury can also get into the human body when people eat fish from waters taking catchment from small scale mines near lakes and rivers, experts assert.