The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) says there is need to raise awareness on mercury use especially among small scale miners and in communities living in mining areas.
Briefing journalists in Harare today, EMA Provincial Manager Harare Metropolitan,
Mr Robson Mavondo said the global mercury project conducted from 2002 to 2015 showed that 70 percent of small scale miners were poisoned with mercury, while 69 percent of children working with mercury and 33 percent of children not working with mercury had chronic mercury intoxication.
“Studies on the environmental and human health assessment identified gold stamp milling centers as the main places of mercury pollution,” he added.
EMA Environment Officer Hazardous Substances, Mr Brian Gada emphasised that those who use mercury should have a license from EMA as provided by section 73 of the Zimbabwean Constitution that recognises environmental rights, particularly the right to clean and health environment.
“Our aim is to make sure that education campaigns are conducted nationwide, emphasising on reduction or worst practices to realize sustainable use of mercury,” he said.
Zimbabwe is among the 135 countries that signed the October 2013 Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global treaty that aims at protecting human health and the environment from adverse effects of mercury.
Meanwhile, women miners have added their voice to push the global initiative towards phasing out the use of mercury in mining, as it is harmful to human health and the environment.
The use of mercury in mining has remained active for decades despite the various dangers that the metal poses on human health and the environment.
The dangers of mercury are worrying especially for the small scale and artisanal miners who tend to be poorly regulated due to the remote locations of the mines, with evidence in the gold mining town of Kwekwe showing the bare handling of the nerve affecting metal.
Even more worrying is the knowledge gap among the users of the substance.
“It is not only happening here in Kwekwe. What we have seen is that in every province where gold is found, this is what is happening. These women are not aware and the sad reality is that some of them are working with their children near the mercury and you can imagine the danger that these children will also be facing,” Women in Mining Chairperson, Ms Blessing Hungwe said.
Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association Small-Scale Artisanal Mining Officer, Mr Mukasiri Sibanda said his association supports proposals to phase out mercury by strengthening the overarching body of women in mining through raising awareness on the dangers of mercury.
“The dangers of mercury on human health and the environment are not immediate, but 20 years down the line, this may result in infertility. This substance poses a great risk to miners and the exposure is worse for children and teenagers,” he said.
Zimbabwe is currently carrying out researches into the implications of mercury with the overall objective being to phase out the substance’s usage and adopting alternative and cleaner methods to recover gold deposits in line with the Minamata Convention agreed on last year to which Zimbabwe is signatory.