Ban Toxics culminates mercury-reduction pilot project with DENR, DOH, eyes Palawan as potential project beneficiary

Ban Toxics conducted press conference in relation to the Culminating Activity of their mercury-reduction pilot project with DENR, DOH, UNIDO and GEF

Ban Toxics, an NGO working on eradicating the impact of harmful toxics to living organisms, officially culminated on June 13, its partnership project with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Environment Management Bureau (DENR-EMB) and the Department of Health (DOH) on reducing the use of mercury among gold mining communities in the country. The said culminating activity, which was held at Sheridan Beach Resort in Puerto Princesa City, was attended by representatives from the said organization, government agencies and the city government.

As explained by Project CEO Atty. Richard Gutierrez, the project, which was funded by the Global Environment Fund (GEF) and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (Unido), aimed to introduce a mercury-free technology in small-scale mining areas to promote health care, formalization of the sector and policies related to mercury issues. It focused on two small-scale mining gold communities for which they give assistance in several forms like technical training, proper mining techniques, health assistance and other impacts of mining particularly on the ill effects of direct exposure to mercury.

Gutierrez explained that instead of using mercury, they are trying to re-introduce a “primitive” but chemical-free methodology of gold processing, which he called as an improved gravity concentration method.

“Let’s say meron kang isang toneladang ore, mercury can only capture 30% of the gold from the ore. Mercury-processing is highly inefficient. Mas mabigat ang gold compare to other impurities. That’s why they are trying to re-educate the miners [on] the correct methodology,” he said.

“Realize the inherent advantage of gold. Since mas mabigat yung ginto, ‘pag dinurog mo, hindi mo na kailangang gumamit ng mercury. All you have to do is to harness the gold using gravity…Fundamentally, by utilizing gravity, taking advantage of the inherent properties of gold, you can actually increase your gold recovery as much as 70-90 % depending on the methodology that you’ll be using,” the CEO added.

Atty. Jonas Leones, DENR Undersecretary for Environment and International Environment Affairs, said that the project is important in helping the Congress in ratifying the country’s commitment to the Minamata Convention on Mercury, of which the Philippines is a signatory since 2013. The said convention is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury.

Base on the data provided by Ban Toxics, gold mining in communities, more particularly known as Artisanal Gold Mining or ASGM, accounts for 15% of the world’s annual gold production but remains as one of the most significant sources of mercury release into the environment in the developing world.

Potential Project in Palawan

Meanwhile, Gutierrez said that they also see Palawan as potential beneficiary of their project because of the reported existence of gold panning in the town of Roxas. However, he said that their might be problems yet in terms of technicalities. This concern was seconded by DENR Usec Leones who said that the area (Roxas) must be declared first as a “minahang bayan”. Based on the records of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, there are only 2-3 mining areas declared as such.

“Unless ma-declare, no chance na maging beneficiary ng project of Unido, Ban Toxics or whatever donor. I-ayos muna natin yung dito sa Palawan,” Leones stressed out.

Meanwhile, Atty Carlo Gomez, who attended the event as representative of Mayor Lucilo Bayron and who also shared his experience during his stint as Kilusan Sakip Kalikasan (KSK) Program Director in the activity, confirmed the existence of informal gold panners in Magara, Roxas, some areas in Taytay and Sofronio Espanola.

“We tried to bridge them, may move naman kami na gawing minahang bayan, ang problema, hindi sila komportable sa idea, akala nila pwede backyard, gawin basta basta na lang,” he said.

Gomez also emphasized that their concerns before include water contamination of mercury. He clarified also that in Puerto Princesa, there are no mining communities.

Based on the WHO official website, the inhalation of mercury vapor can produce harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and may be fatal. The inorganic salts of mercury are corrosive to the skin, eyes and gastrointestinal tract, and may induce kidney toxicity if ingested. Symptoms include tremors, insomnia, memory loss, neuro-muscular effects, headaches and cognitive and motor dysfunction.

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