BusinessEconomyMining

State, NGOs seek to end use of harmful mercury in Kakamega gold mines

The laws ban new mercury mines and phases out existing ones.

Story Highlights
  • Kakamega Artisanal Miners Group secretary general Patrick Amakhule lauded UNDP for supporting the elimination of harmful mercury.
  • County Artisanal Miners Group chairperson Timothy Mukoshi said that through the Global Environment Fund, the United Nations Development Programme has provided Sh800 million to help eradicate mercury in mining gold in Kenya.

Artisanal miners in Kakamega county are being sensitised to reduce or completely eliminate the use of mercury while extracting gold.

This is because mercury has adverse effects on miners’ health and the environment.

Non-governmental organisations have joined efforts by the national government, through the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining, to advocate for the use of new and safer methods.

The NGOs – Groots Kenya, Solidaridad and Haki Madini Kenya – are now championing use of a gold separation table known as shaker table, or use of borax chemical or gold ore dressing agent (GDA).

A month ago, the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining officials, in conjunction with officers from the National Environment Management Authority, conducted an analysis of the miners in the county to determine the extent of usage of mercury.

County Artisanal Miners Group chairperson Timothy Mukoshi said that through the Global Environment Fund, the United Nations Development Programme has provided Sh800 million to help eradicate mercury in mining gold in Kenya.

He said the funds are meant to support 10 groups from each of the counties where artisanal mining is done extensively by setting up model sites and availing equipment that will be used to mine gold without the use of the heavy metal.

The money will be shared among groups drawn from Kakamega, Vihiga, Migori, Siaya and Narok counties. Each group will receive Sh8 million.

“Out of the funds, Sh5 million will be used to establish a model site while Sh3 million will be used to buy a shaker table,” Mukoshi said.

He said when the shaker table is combined with borax and GDA, it will be as effective as mercury.

Borax has been found to have less effect on people and the environment. Shaker tables do not involve use of any chemical compound, though they are very expensive.

The programme is set to run for five years in selected counties before being rolled out across the country to all artisanal miners.

In Kakamega, the model site will be set up in Ikolomani and Lurambi subcounties, which have a high concentration of artisanal miners.

Mukoshi said if successful, the project will cushion most miners who have been affected due to the continuous use of mercury. Other counties where mining is done include Homa Bay, Nandi, Turkana and West Pokot.

He said women are at higher risk as they come into contact with mercury more often than men. “Most men work in shafts, leaving the rest of the work to women,” Mukoshi noted.

Kakamega Artisanal Miners Group secretary general Patrick Amakhule lauded UNDP for supporting the elimination of harmful mercury.

A machine crushes rocks containing gold deposits. They are then mixed with mercury to separate gold from the soil.

Experts have warned that mercury is toxic to both humans and the environment.

Artisanal gold miners expose themselves to grave health risks since they don’t have safety gear such as ear plugs, safety glasses, masks, gloves and gumboots when extracting gold.

They also use bare hands in handling mercury, which in the long run makes them lose their fingernails

The Ministry of Mining has started conducting trials for the new technology in the gold mining areas in the county, where records show Kakamega has at least 1.31 million ounces of gold deposits along the Liranda Corridor, which is valued at Sh171 billion.

The Liranda Corridor stretches from Shinyalu to Ikolomani subcounties. Part of it is in Vihiga county.

According to the Global Mercury Assessment 2013 report, artisanal and small-scale gold mining is the largest source of mercury emissions at 37 per cent, followed closely by coal combustion at 24 per cent.

Kenya signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury on October 10, 2013, joining the global efforts to prevent mercury pollution.

This followed the 2000 ratification of the Basel Convention on the Trans-boundary Movement of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal.

The laws ban new mercury mines and phases out existing ones.

They also phase out and phase down mercury use in a number of products and processes, control measures on air, land and water emissions.

According to the World Health Organization, mercury is toxic to the central and peripheral nervous systems.

“Mercury is corrosive and the inhalation of mercury vapour can produce harmful effects on nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs, kidneys, and may be fatal,” WHO says on its website.

“Mercury use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining is particularly hazardous, and health effects on vulnerable populations are significant,” WHO said, calling for alternative means of extraction.

Via
George Kaiga
Source
KNA

Related Articles

Back to top button