New project promotes mercury-free gold mining

By Catherine Teves

April 12, 2019, 5:39 pm

MANILA – A new USD11.7-million project in the Philippines and Mongolia targets to help eliminate the use of mercury in these countries’ respective artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) sectors.

Launched in Quezon City on Thursday and earlier this week in Mongolia, the 2019-2024 project is under the Global Opportunities for Long-Term Development of the ASGM sector (GOLD) program, which seeks to address key issues linked to the continuous use of mercury and to provide opportunities for sustainable development of communities concerned.

“Through the project, we envision towards contributing to the elimination of mercury in ASGM,” Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Undersecretary Analiza Teh said at the launch.

The project involves a review of policy and legal frameworks supporting ASGM’s formalization, introduction of financing schemes for miners’ shift to mercury-free technologies, transfer of relevant technology, dissemination of information regarding the project, as well as monitoring and evaluation.

“We hope we can demonstrate the viability of the small-scale mining sector adapting a responsible approach in the utilization of natural resources,” Teh said.

Small-scale mining refers to mining activities that rely heavily on manual labor using simple implements and methods and don’t use explosives or heavy mining equipment, noted DENR Assistant Secretary Nonita Caguioa, citing Republic Act (RA) 7076 or the People's Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991.

“It has a 50,000-MT (metric ton) annual production limit,” she said at the launch.

Aside from RA 7076 and the 1987 Constitution, she said Executive Order 79, series of 2012 is part of the Philippines’ legal framework for ASGM.

EO 79 prohibits the use of mercury in mining and mineral processing, she said.

According to the DENR, the unabated use of mercury is among the issues hounding a number of Philippine ASGM operations.

These operations are among the sources of mercury discharges in the country, it said.

Global Environment Facility (GEF) invested USD45 million in the GOLD program, program officer of the United Nations Environment Programme, Ludovic Bernaudat, said.

The project in Mongolia and the Philippines is among eight projects under GOLD and is the largest under this program, Bernaudat said at the launch.

“It’s one of the first large GEF investments to implement the Minamata Convention,” he added.

The Minamata Convention is the global treaty for protecting human health and the environment from mercury’s adverse effects.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mercury is a naturally occurring element in the air, water and soil.

“Exposure to mercury – even small amounts – may cause serious health problems and is a threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life,” the WHO warned.

It said mercury may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, as well as on the lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. 

Experts also warned exposure to mercury can cause in animals either death, reduced reproduction, slower growth and development or abnormal behavior.

The UNEP and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) are GEF’s implementing agencies for the project in Mongolia and the Philippines.

The project’s executing agencies are the Ministry of Environment and Tourism for Mongolia and DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau for the Philippines. (PNA)