Gold Board lab to shut down amid mercury threat

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Following a scathing statement from the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) for a more “complete and verifiable” solution to the mercury contamination at the Gold Board, a decision was made by the Ministry of Natural Resources to fast-track the closure of the laboratory that smelters gold.

The Ministry issued a statement Friday night explaining that it convened a special meeting earlier in the day with officials of the Guyana Gold Board (GGB) and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) to discuss the issues regarding the threat the situation poses to workers and other persons who are in the surrounding environs.

“…the GGB’s and GGMC shared conclusion that it was in the best interest of all that the laboratory be re-located, the critical decision was today taken that the laboratory would be moved within the shortest possible time so as to safeguard the health of workers of the GGMC and Gold Board,” the Ministry announced in the press statement.

It explained that the intention is to have the laboratory moved in the first instance and then the administrative offices of the Board thereafter.

The Ministry said it will soon be scouting for suitable sites for both short-term and long-term solutions.

In attendance at the meeting was Dr David Singh, head of the recently appointed Review Committee, who shared his expert knowledge and advice on the best steps to be taken to ensure success and a smooth transition of operations, the Ministry said.

In mid-March, the GGMC and the Gold Board acknowledged that there was a problem with mercury emissions.

The facilities of the Gold Board are located in the compound of the GGMC, whose workers the GPSU represent.

All Gold Board employees who were exposed to mercury along with 130 GGMC staff were tested.

It was disclosed that 60 persons from the GGMC were found with “above normal” levels of mercury but Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman said this could be because of consuming too much fish.

The GPSU, in its statement earlier in the day, said that the issue adds to a sustained and unacceptable breach of health and safety protocols and the Ministry of Natural Resources bears accountability.

Rather than throw assurances at the workers through public statements, the Union said the Ministry must immediately re-engage with the workers and their Union to ensure “robust protocols pertaining to the safety and health of GGMC workers are firmly in place and, moreover, that they are operational on a full – time basis.”

The Ministry of Natural Resources had stated that based on the investigation conducted during March 2017, the Mercury (Hg) levels monitored at all ten (10) locations with the compound of the GGMC were within the United States Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s eight-hour Permissible Exposure Limit.

The Ministry said that the Guyana Gold Board does not use mercury in its operations but that gold brought to the Gold Board for sale and processing may contain mercury which is emitted during smeltering.

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