Faulty Gold Board system causes high mercury levels in GGMC workers; system fixed

Last Updated on Saturday, 17 March 2018, 23:39 by Denis Chabrol

The headquarters of the Guyana Gold Board, Brickdam, Georgetown.

At least 20 workers of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) have been tested with worrying levels of mercury due to defective systems at the Guyana Gold Board which that entity says have been fixed.

GGMC Commissioner, Newell Dennison said that medical treatment would be provided to staff in certain areas of that regulatory agency’s Brickdam headquarters . “We consider it serious because tests have shown levels what would considered to be typical or normal”,” he told Demerara Waves Online News.

Information has since been shared with the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and, according to him, that social security agency has since been provided guidance on the protocols that should be followed.

Along with that, a health care provider referred persons who we have identified and broader sets who are now being tested, evaluated and  treated. “We understand that there is an absence of the particular set of drugs that are needed to defend against this and we are addressing that with our health care provider,”

He explained that when persons go to sell gold to the GGB which is in the same compound, there are mercury emissions from the burning of the metal, but this the first known high level of exposure. “I am not aware that we have ever had this kind of exposure but we understand that there is an element of risk but we have had in place regular testing of the areas to ensure that we would pick up if there are emanations that are above typical exposures,” he said.

The GGMC boss said GGB equipment, under the control of the Gold Board, that is used for testing mercury emissions had malfunctioned, and it was only when it was fixed that authorities recognised the high level of pollution.

In a statement issued late Saturday by the Ministry of Natural Resources, the GGMC and GGB acknowledged that the issue of mercury emissions is being addressed to reduce the risk of exposure. “The GGMC and the GGB wish to assure everyone that the matter of mercury emissions is of serious concern and engages the highest levels of attention from its senior administrators. The GGMC and the GGB, stand fully committed and involved through continuous monitoring to control the situation to meet all acceptable safety levels,” the

Those two agencies, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources, have collaborated in recent weeks to strengthen mercury management activities at the Brickdam Complex “so that there are no emissions of mercury during daily operations.” “This is in addition to measures that were already in place, and part of operational routines which had included regular testing of workers.” the ministry added.

Measures taken include a comprehensive inspection of the entire emissions control system, timely refurbishing of all areas and aspects of related systems, physical extension of emissions chimney, satisfactory testing of work and resulting emissions, arranging for written assurances (warranties) as to work performed, continuing with an aggressive maintenance schedule, recruiting external monitoring parties for safety certification purposes,  and continuous monitoring to detect any suspicious levels.

The World Health Organisation says inhalation of mercury vapour can harm the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and may be fatal. The inorganic salts of mercury are corrosive to the skin, eyes and gastrointestinal tract, and may induce kidney toxicity if ingested.

The WHO adds that neurological and behavioural disorders may be observed after inhalation, ingestion or dermal exposure of different mercury compounds. Symptoms include tremors, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular effects, headaches and cognitive and motor dysfunction. Mild, subclinical signs of central nervous system toxicity can be seen in workers exposed to an elemental mercury level in the air of 20 μg/m3 or more for several years. Kidney effects have been reported, ranging from increased protein in the urine to kidney failure.