Environmental authorisation, GGMC permit among measures to curtail mercury use
…as new restriction rolled out takes effect from August
By Jarryl Bryan
In keeping with the drive to limit the use of mercury due to the havoc it can cause, Government agencies have established rigid procedures that persons will have to go through in order to import mercury into the country.
The new procedures are being established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in conjunction with the Pesticide Toxic Chemical Control Board (PTCCB) and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC).
According to a bulletin from the EPA, importers, retailers, traders and distributors of mercury were advised that they now need an environmental authorisation from the agency. This takes effect as of August 1.
The agency noted that this is in keeping with the Environmental Protection Act Cap 20:05, which spells out, among other things, the various environmental infractions and penalties for pollution.
“Failure to obtain an Environmental Authorisation from the EPA will deem you ineligible to acquire a license from the PTCCB to import, retail or distribute mercury. To avoid this, persons are asked to make immediate contact with the EPA,” the agency noted.
“Further, the written consent of the Commissioner of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission is at all times required before any shipment of mercury is imported into Guyana for mining purposes,” it added.
Mercury has such an adverse effect on the environment and human beings that a treaty had to be signed between countries in order to mitigate the damage it causes. The convention in question is the Minamata Convention on Mercury – a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury.
It was agreed to at the Fifth Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Mercury in Geneva, Switzerland, on January 19, 2013, and was later adopted on October 10, 2013.
The convention draws attention to a global and ubiquitous metal that, while naturally occurring, has broad uses in everyday objects and is released to the atmosphere, soil and water from a variety of sources. Controlling the anthropogenic releases of mercury throughout its lifecycle was a key factor in shaping the obligations under the convention.
Major highlights of the convention include a ban on new mercury mines, the phasing out of existing ones, the phasing out and phasing 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 regulation 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 that run the gamut of reproductive to neurological.
There have previously been reports on increased levels of mercury in several waterways in interior regions. Additionally, the Guyana Water Inc was forced to temporarily close its Port Kaituma well after it discovered high mercury content in the Kaituma River.
Last year, the discovery of high levels of mercury in the Guyana Gold Board (GGB) laboratory in Georgetown had led to Trinidad-based Kaizen Environmental Services being contracted to conduct an independent investigation on the effect of the emission.
Research shows that mercury can enter the body through inhalation of mercury vapour, ingestion, injection or even absorption through the skin. In the case of mining personnel, a reading showing levels of 0-6 micrograms per litre is considered safe while 7-10 is high and above 11 is dangerous. Once in the human system, mercury poisoning has horrendous effects on neurological, reproductive, gastrointestinal and renal organs.