By Devina Samaroo
Two high-level teams from the Pan – American Health Organisation (PAHO) will be contracted by the Government of Guyana to assess the mercury situation at the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and the Guyana Gold Board (GGB), which are located in the same compound on Brickdam Road.
The announcement was made by Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence and Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman during a joint press conference Tuesday afternoon at the Ministry of the Presidency (MotP).
Lawrence explained that PAHO officials are currently in discussion with representatives from the US-Government Agency – Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – via Skype to have the first team dispatched in the coming days to examine the cleanup exercise done at the compound since the mercury contamination.
They will also ascertain if the levels of mercury still existing there are above the appropriate amount.
The work done by the first team will set the stage for another delegation of experts to arrive to review the standards and practices done at the GGMC and GGB, especially as it relates to the use of mercury in the operations.
Minister Trotman explained that among the things to be done, the team will look at past records to examine patterns of workers’ health and to make recommendations on the accepted level of mercury exposure.
In this regard, the Natural Resources Minister urged that miners limit the use of mercury in their operations.
DEATHS OF WORKERS TO BE REVIEWED
Earlier this year, there was an unrest at the GGB and the GGMC amid concerns of a mercury threat after two GGMC workers died.
Following a series of protests, the Ministry of Natural Resources intervened and conducted tests which revealed that about 200 workers have above normal levels of mercury in their systems.
After demands for more strident actions from the workers’ union, the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU), the Ministry decided to shut down the Gold Board lab, which smeltered the gold, causing the mercury emissions to be released in the atmosphere.
Just about a week ago, however, two more GGMC workers died, causing persons to question if the death of all four of the individuals were mercury-related.
Latchman Chiti, a surveyor who was in his late 40s and Clement Proffit, a lab technician, who was in his early 60s recently passed away while Dwayne De Jonge, a ranger, and Leroy Greene, a carpenter died earlier in the year.
The Ministers have since dismissed those speculations but admitted that there is no evidence to rule out the concerns.
As such, the Public Health Board chaired by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr Shamdeo Persaud has since undertaken to conduct a review of the deaths of the four workers with the aim of determining whether mercury could have been the reason behind their untimely demise.
Minister Lawrence said the Board will garner information from the pathologist to conduct their review but she could not say whether toxicology tests will be done.
The Ministers explained that these decisions were made following an extensive meeting between officials of the two Ministries including senior officers from the Georgetown Public Hospital.
The Ministers committed to doing all they can “sparing no expenses”, to ensure the health and safety of the workers at the GGMC and GGB are protected.