PAHO teams begin mercury investigation at GGMC complex.

DPI, Guyana, Thursday, June 21, 2018

A team from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) is currently assessing the mercury clean-up efforts at the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) Brickdam complex.

The team, which is comprised of two industrial hygienists, two physicians and a mining engineer, is conducting tests to determine if any traces of mercury remain at the complex.

The team arrived on Wednesday and met with the Ministers of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman and Public Health Minister, Volda Lawrence, Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection, Keith Scott. PAHO/WHO Country Representative Dr. William Adu-Krow was also present.

Minister Trotman explained that the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Department within the Ministry of Social Protection had cleaned and certified the area is free of mercury. However, a third-party opinion is needed to approve the certification and provide guidance on the way forward, Minister Trotman explained.

“This has been a wakeup call for us. It is a matter that has been ongoing for perhaps decades, we cannot postpone any longer or pretend that it is not an issue in Guyana. So, your presence here is to look at the compound and its environs and provide some guidance to the government and its agents as to how to proceed,” Minister Trotman told the team.

Industrial Hygienist and head of the team, Catherine Beecham, explained the team will be familiarising themselves with the entire process of retrieving and burning the gold. They will also be meeting with the staff to know the history of what the complaint is about and what has been done.

The majority of the team’s focus will be done on June 21 and 22. A drone mercury vapour analyzer will be used to see if there are any more detectable levels of mercury at the facility.

Beecham emphasised, “we are not here specifically to say it is safe to return, what we can say is what the current levels are based on our best measurements and we can make recommendations to reduce exposures if they are occurring and how to prevent exposure. we are hoping to go to the site where persons are working.”

The Guyana Gold Board (GGB) ceased the burning of gold at the GGMC complex in April following health and safety concerns. The GGB is currently sourcing alternative facilities.

Others issues to be looked at are SOPs and standards regarding mining and the use of mercury. Another PAHO team is expected to work with the government in this regard following the conclusion of Beecham’s investigations.

Guyana has committed to the eventual removal of mercury and will replace its usage with alternative methods that increase recovery of gold.

By: Synieka Thorne.

Images: Leon Leung.