The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) says that the recent discovery that some employees of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) are suffering the effects of exposure to mercury emission, is not being taken lightly.
The Ministry, which is lead by Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman, detailed in a statement its unequivocal position that the “safety, health and general well being of our workers is our top priority.”
“Given the nature of our operations, employees may be exposed to various risks and every effort is made to minimize and guard against these” the Ministry said while outlining that suggestions of political indifference on the part of its Administration are misplaced.
According to the MNR, Government through its Ministry, the Guyana Gold Board and the GGMC acted immediately to determine the health status of the staff of GGMC and the Guyana Gold Board (GGB) as it continues to look at ways to ensure a safe environment.
Moreover, it was disclosed that following the disclosure that some staff were affected, 130 employees of the GGMC and the GGGB were tested, while further testing will now be done by an overseas company, Kaizen Environmental Services (Guyana) Ltd.
The same company was commissioned to conduct air quality monitoring of the Board’s Laboratory, compound and environment.
Kaizen reportedly conducted tests at 10 locations and found that mercury levels at all ten locations were within the United States Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s eight-hour permissible exposure limit.
“Activation Laboratory, a local company was also consulted to assist with monitoring” while the “Environmental Protection Agency has been invited in to monitor the situation and is
statutorily authorised to take any action deemed warranted.” said the Ministry.
According to the MNR, “it must be noted that the Guyana Gold Board does not use mercury in its operations. However, gold brought to Board for sale and processing may contain mercury which is emitted during smeltering.”
GGMC’s Commissioner Newell Dennison had explained in sections of the media that
the natural resources agency was conducting testing on its staffers for unusual levels of mercury poisoning and found that a relatively large number of persons, many not directly in contact with the substance, have been affected.
The GGB’s laboratory in the GGMC compound where the burning of gold is done to get rid of the mercury, used in the amalgamation process of extracting the gold, was responsible for the emissions which may have affected the employees.
Dennison was quoted in the media saying that “consideration is being given to relocating the current testing lab to a separate area, since mercury vapours would remain in office spaces and air conditioning units.”
Some of the affected workers have since complained of the side effects they are experiencing with the drugs being provided to expel the mercury from their systems.
Moreover, they are calling for the laboratory to be removed from the GGMC compound.
A move that Trotman said is being considered.