PAHO experts inspecting GGMC for mercury

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 June 2018, 14:29 by Denis Chabrol

The PAHO experts on the ground at the GGMC searching for dangerous traces of mercury.

Experts from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) have begun inspecting the headquarters of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission and Guyana Gold Board for traces of mercury that have sickened several employees in recent months.

GGMC Commissioner, Newell Dennisson confirmed that the inspectors began work on Wednesday and continued on Thursday.

“Their work started upon their arrival yesterday (Wednesday) and they are continuing today. I am expecting that sometime by the end of the weekend, they should have something,” he told Demerara Waves Online News in a brief comment.

Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman told Demerara Waves Online News that the experts, who are drawn from the United States’ Surgeon General under PAHO’s auspices, will not be stating whether the premises are safe or not.

“They are not here to say if it is safe or not but to give recommendations on safety procedures and standard operating procedures and threshold guidance….They are not here to verify or disprove or prove anything,” he said.

The team is expected to brief Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence; Junior Minister of Social Protection, Keith Scott and the Minister of Natural Resources during which time they would be presenting a preliminary report.

Government’s Department of Public Information said 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.

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.”

A mercury clean-up of the GGMC building located at Upper Brickdam, Georgetown has been already conducted, but workers have refused to reoccupy the premises for fear that the area is still contaminated.

Several workers, whose mercury levels are above normal, are still off the job and are expected to take prescribed medication and vitamins.

Neither the GGMC nor the Gold Board uses mercury, but a defective system at the Board had resulted in the escape of the poisonous chemical into the atmosphere during the burning of gold taken by miners for sale.

The PAHO experts at the GGMC compound checking for traces of mercury following a clean-up exercise several weeks ago.

Since then, the Gold Board has stopped purchasing the precious metal there and have referred sellers to at least one privately-owned licensed trader.

The  Guyana Public Service Union and the rival Guyana Civil Service and General Workers Union have publicly endorsed the need for a healthy work environment at the GGMC.