EPA, GGMC other key agencies team up to fight ‘scourge of mercury’

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In an aggressive push to phase out the use of mercury, key government agencies have banded together to monitor from the importation and use to the disposal of the dangerous chemical.

However, Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman assured that while the Government and its partners will work assiduously to reduce the incidence of mercury, the intention by no means spells the death of mining.

“Guyana is a long but necessary one,” Trotman declared Friday.

Guyana has signed on to a United Nations Convention – the Minamata Convention – against the use of mercury and has pledged to eliminate its use within the next eight years.

The Minamata Convention dictates that parties phase out and phase down of mercury use in a number of products and processes, control measures on emissions to air and on releases to land and water, and the regulate of the informal sector of artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

The Convention also addresses interim storage of mercury and its disposal once it becomes waste, sites contaminated by mercury as well as health issues.

As part of Guyana’s ambitious goal to phase out mercury use by 2027, four government agencies have come together to monitor and regulate the importation, storage, sale, use and final disposal of the chemical.

The agencies are the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), the Environmental Protection Agency and the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board (PTCCB).

The agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding that details and gives effect to their collaboration.

According to the agreement, the Ministry, the GGMC and PTCCB shall agree annually to a capped amount of mercury to be imported for use in the small and medium scale gold mining sector, starting with an amount of 1,000 flasks / 34, 500 kg per year.

This amount shall be used as the base quota, which will be gradually reduced, contingent on the projected gold declaration in the small and medium scale gold mining sector, the streamlining and implementation of alternative technologies and techniques to mercury use and as agreed by the parties.

“The Government is steadfast and will continue to preserve and keep the momentum going in creating a safe and clean environment and to protect the lives and livelihood of our people by addressing the dangers of mercury use,” said Trotman at the signing ceremony held at his Ministry’s Main Street, Georgetown office.

Trotman said that some have taken a jaundiced view towards the approach to monitoring and regulating the use of mercury. They claim, he said, that it is intended to end mining, but Trotman said that is far from the truth.

“…mining is very good for Guyana.

“…mercury used indiscriminately is bad for Guyana.

“…the government and its partners will work assiduously to reduce the incidence of mercury without jeopardising or diminishing the value and significance of miners and mining,” said Trotman.

Trecia David -Garnath, Registrar of the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board (PTCCB) said noted that the plan ahead includes ensuring there is no hoarding of mercury by some importers and also ensuring there is no illegal traffic of the chemical to other countries. She said whatever will be done will be according to what the law provides for.

“The Indiscriminate use of mercury can cause impact – both to human health and the environment,” she stated.

David-Garnath said the requirements for importing mercury are listed on the Board’s website.

Newell Dennison, the head of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) applauded those in the mining sector who have taken heed to the call for responsible handling and use of mercury.

He said what is being done now to control the importation and tracking of mercury is what was intended in regulations dating back some 15 years.

“Please allow me to emphasise that what is being done by the coordinating of relevant agencies in this serious matter of mercury imports and distribution is all in keeping with the intent of the mining amendment regulations of 2005 which refer to the need for special, careful treatment of this poisonous substance,” Dennison stated.

Dr Vincent Adams, the Executive Director of the head of the Environmental Protection Agency noted that the collaboration now corrects the vacuum in the management of the importation and use of mercury.

According to the GGMC, mercury importation amounted to 10, 000 kilogrammes last year, compared to a peak of 87, 000 in one recent year.

According to the agreement, the GGMC will require that any person, whether an individual, a group of individuals or a company, who imports mercury into Guyana for the purpose of mining to meet several criteria.

The person must produce a valid quotation from the supplier stating the amount and origin (country) of the mercury to be imported and submit same to the office of the Commissioner of GGMC.

As guided by Regulation 132(1) of the Mining (Amendment) 2005, every importer who resells mercury, shall submit along with their request letter to GGMC, the names of the companies/miners that the mercury will be resold, their dredge licenses number and the provision of one-year data on the previous quantities they have received or were issued for the year and the balance of mercury stock on hand.

The GGMC will recommend to the Minister of Natural Resources that the individual, group of individuals or duly registered corporation be issued with a “No Objection” letter.

The Minister will then grant final authorisation through the issuance of his/her approval/disapproval of the “No Objection” letter, for the person(s) to be allowed to import mercury into Guyana.

The “No Objection” letter issued by the GGMC will be valid for a maximum of 150 flasks (5,175 kg) of mercury and for a period of six months from the date issued on the letter.

The “No Objection” letter will only be used for one (1) consignment of Page 6 of 8 mercury and will not be reused in cases where the importer does not ship the allocated amount.

The GGMC will forward a copy of any “No Objection” letter issued to the PTCCB for its retention and action.

The PTCCB will request a valid Authorisation by the Environmental Protection Agency. This will be required by the submission of an Application for Environmental Authorisation to the Agency, along with supporting documentation including a map showing the proposed storage site and a Spill Prevention, Response and Disposal Plan.

Prior to the issuance of a “No Objection” letter, a person(s) or company who wants to import and distribute mercury must have a valid registration from the PTCCB and a valid Environmental Authorisation from the EPA.

Prior to the issuance of a “No Objection” letter, the PTCCB along with the GGMC and the EPA shall conduct inspections and follow-up inspections of the premises of individuals, groups of individuals and duly registered corporations that seek to import mercury to assess whether these individuals, groups of individuals and companies have proper storage facilities in compliance with storage standards.

This should be done at least once within a twelve (12) month period. (Reporting by Neil Marks)

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