PAHO to lead investigation into mercury emissions at GGMC

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Following a report from the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) voicing concern with the “untimely deaths” of four Guyana Geology and Mine Commission (GGMC) workers that  the party, identified as “Mr. Dwayne De Jonge (ranger), Mr. Latchman Chiti (surveyor), Mr. Leroy Green (carpenter) and Mr. Clement Proffit (lab technician),” Government via a release from its Department of Public Information (DPI) said that two teams from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) will be investigating mercury emissions at the GGMC Brickdam complex.

The Party had said that “the deaths of these staffers, who were documented to have been affected by mercury poisoning, makes it clear that every effort must be made to ensure that working conditions are safe.”

Ministers of Public Health Volda Lawrence and Natural Resources Raphael Trotman

According the DPI, the Ministry of Public Health has taken the lead on the issue. Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence, at a joint press briefing with Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman, said the first PAHO team is expected in Guyana within days.

That team will assess the clean-up efforts that were completed last week at the GGMC’s Brickdam complex after the Guyana Gold Board (GGB) ceased gold burning in April due to health and safety concerns.

“They can be able to give a validation to the pronouncements issued by our local body. That team will then set the stage for the other investigative team that will come in and look at the protocol, standards of our PPE and so on,” Minister Lawrence explained.

The PAHO team will be working closely with the GGMC and the GGB.

Additionally, the DPI said that “the two ministries will examine their databases to determine previous mercury levels and exposures with the aim of reviewing same to ensure it meets international standards.”

Minister Trotman said the government will spare no effort to ensure the safety of workers and those who come into contact with mercury across the mining industry. “Ultimately … we wish to restore confidence both in the workers and in the public that this issue is being addressed,” he said.

Meanwhile Trotman, in addressing the concerns raised by the PPP said, that “there is no evidence to say anyone has died”.

His Ministry had previously noted, “there is simply no existing empirical data which establish that mercury is responsible for the deaths of miners and GGMC workers in recent times”.

It was outlined that the Public Health Board will conduct a review of pathology reports of those deaths to effectively address these concerns.

While outlining that the reported deaths are not a political issue, the PPP had said that “These four deaths, which follow each other in such a short period of time, should be a cause for serious concern. It is disturbing that the government and the GGMC have been reluctant to inform the staff and public about actions taken to ensure protection of, not only staffers, but also those in surrounding communities.”

The PPP said it will support the Government of Guyana to ensure that every effort is made to guarantee the health and safety of our people, while expressing condolences to the families and co-workers of these men that died.

Highlighting that the deaths of the staffers must be, supported by calls for measures to be taken to reduce the risks to other staff and residents in the neighbouring communities, the PPP urged “immediate action by the relevant authorities, including the management of the GGMC and the Ministry of Public Health, to ensure the occupational health and safety standards are in place and the welfare of all staff and citizens are protected.”

The Party had also said that “the GGMC and the Ministry of Public Health must also operationalize all precautionary measures including testing and appropriate treatment of all staff, and persons in neighbouring communities, whom may have been exposed. This should be done at the cost of the GGMC. The PPP/C also supports the sourcing of specialists to respond to this matter before it becomes a bigger public health crisis.”

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