Mercury puts gold miners at risk of heart attack

Hezron Kising | The National aka The Loggers Times | 28 June 2018

Small-scale gold miners who directly handle mercury while extracting gold have a greater risk of developing heart disease, a study reveals.

Michael Kiapulkalow, a senior environmental science lecturer at University of PNG, said mercury and its compounds were highly toxic and had adverse effects on human health, wildlife and the environment.

He said this during a workshop on chemical and waste management by Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA).

This was in regard to thousands of artisanal small-scale gold mining activities throughout the country where people were exposed to chemicals that could harm them.

“Mercury is highly toxic, causing damage to the nervous system at even relatively low levels of exposure” Kiapulkalow said.

“In Wau-Bulolo district in Morobe and Misima Island in Milne Bay, hundreds of people have been exposed to mercury and will encounter long-term health problems.

“It is particularly harmful to the development of unborn children if a pregnant women is exposed or involved.

“Mercury usually collects in human and animal bodies and can be concentrated through the food chain, especially in certain types of fish. Women who are breastfeeding or might become pregnant should limit their interaction in and around those small scale gold mining areas, since there is high amount of mercury concentration released into the environment.

“It’s generally anticipated that the artisanal small-scale gold mining sector has more mercury releases into the environment than the large operating mines.”

Kiapulkalow said CEPA had implemented a convention with the national government to address the issue by putting in place the Minamata Convention (MC).

“MC is a global treaty designed to protect human health and the environment from the adverse impacts of mercury and its compounds,” he said.

“PNG was not able to sign the MC and is currently not a party to the MC.

“There is currently a joint National Executive Council submission between Foreign Affairs Department and CEPA for PNG to accede to the MC.

“PNG will look to becoming a party to the Minamata Convention in 2019.

“That will protect human health and environment from the risks posed by unintentional and intentional emissions and releases, unsound use and management of mercury.”

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Filed under Environmental impact, Papua New Guinea

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