90-year old mining enterprise switches to mercury-free mining

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One of the country’s oldest and more established mining companies – Correia Mining Company – is  ending the use of mercury in its gold processing at Olive Creek, Region Seven. 

Gold washed through the Shaking Table process being smelted
Gold washed through the Shaking Table process being smelted

According to GINA: “Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Robert Persaud on Saturday (September 28, 2013) visited the operations of Correia Mining Company (CMC) in Olive Creek, Region Seven, where he was given a first-hand look of gold-washing using an Xtruder 255 Shaking Table, a very viable alternative to mercury usage. This Shaking Table, which costs US $32,000 is considered a gold finishing table and is the final step before smelting. It is allows for 98 percent recovery, simple to operate, has the capacity of up to 255 pounds per hour and can recover very fine gold, down to 400 mesh with a minimal water requirement of six to ten gallons per minute.”

Mercury, a highly toxic chemical element, is banned in many countries, but is still used in Guyana and most of the developing world.  However, the Government of Guyana aims to gradually phase out its use by 2020 as it recognises the environmental and human health risks of mercury.

The Natural Resources Ministry through the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) has been looking at ways through which miners can be further ‘incentivised’ for incorporating mercury-free technologies into their practices.

Director of Mining Operations, CMC, Charles De Freitas explained that the “washing down” process takes about two to two-and-a-half hours maximum after which it goes straight to the furnace for smelting.

“Mercury is over $20,000 per pound so we feel that in the long run this will not only pay for itself, but is also eliminating all the risks that come with mercury. This is a viable alternative,” De Freitas said.

Meanwhile, Minister Persaud disclosed that discussions are ongoing with key stakeholders of the industry on additional incentives other than tax waivers on the importation of such technology.

“Our main aim is to ensure a general buy-in by the sector, and I am sure that there will be greater interest once people see the returns…it is commendable that the Correia Company, which has been mining since 1926, has made this transition and has done so because it makes economic sense, while at the same time protecting the environment,” Minister Persaud noted.

The GGMC has invested in the procurement of two centrifugal gold recovery systems from South Africa, which is another form of mercury-free technology.

The Minister explained that globally, it is recognised that there will be restrictions in the trade of mercury, and as a result access to the element will become very difficult and even more costly.

As such, the Ministry stands ready to work closely with the players of the sector to gradually phase out the use of mercury and the initiative that CMC has taken lends significant impetus in this regard.

Minister Persaud said that to date he has not met a miner who is not interested in transitioning to mercury-free mining practices. He noted that, “there is curiosity, there is interest and there is willingness.”

CMC’s Chief Executive Officer – Michael Correia, Jnr said that it is incumbent on all involved in the sector to ensure that mining is done in a sustainable manner. He stated that it is an established fact that mercury is a poison and therefore the elimination of its use is in the best interest of all involved.

This particular Shaking Table has the capability of recovering approximately 15 percent more fine gold at a faster rate, and when powered with solar energy, eliminates a lot of miscellaneous costs compared to operations using mercury.

The CMC is the first company in the local mining industry that has a Shaking Table that is at an operational stage. The others are now conducting trials runs.

Others visiting the operation were the President of the GGDMA Patrick Harding, the Commissioner (ag) of the GGMC, several local miners and representatives from the private sector.

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