Uganda National Association of Community and Occupational Health(UNACOH), has warned stakeholders and the general population in Buhweju district against use of mercury in extracting gold, sighting long term effects local and globally.
Gold mining has been going on in Buhweju district for more than fifty years, with miners using rudimentary methods until they started using mercury in 2017 following a gold rush that saw a number of miners from several parts of Uganda district throng the gold reserves seeking the yellow fortune according to the district chairperson, Mr John Asiimwe.
The new entrants came with mercury, which would ease extraction little did they know that they were sitting on a time bomb.
According to UNACOH, exposure to mercury is harmful to human life and flora and fauna by emission. The magnitude of the toxicity may not be immediate, but it will show up in future.
UNACOH warns that mercury produces a vapor that is harmful – chronic exposure leads to “Mad Hatter Disease” resulting into loss of hair, teeth and nails deafness, lack of coordination, poor memory, emotional disturbances and kidney damage.
Through its FREE YOUR MINE PROJECT, UNACOH, says the impact of mercury on the population in Buhweju can be contained as early as it can before all is lost. A five year Memorandum of Understanding has been reached between UNACOH and Buhweju district local government to regulate and by any means stop the use of mercury in the mines.
The FREE YOUR MINE PROJECT will be running activities aiming at phasing-out mercury for sustainable methods of extraction and ensuring environmental protection.
Through its weeklong trainings, targeting district councilors, medical personnel from mining communities and miners, UNACO has told stakeholders that there are many health issues arising from the use of mercury.
During the inception meeting, on 21st July, 2020 at Buhweju district headquarters, Mr. Geoffrey Kamese Nansove, the FREE YOUR MINE PROJECT manager emphasized that extensive use of mercury happens, but with less consideration of occupational health and safety and the Environment by the users.
“For example, open burning of mercury results in mercury spread & inhalation, exposure of expecting mothers and young children who work with their mothers in the mines, Water pollution since most mining activities take place near water sources, contamination of crops, animals, reptiles. Mercury has the potential of bioaccumulation.” Mr. Kamese said
He added that in the mercury environment, fetuses and children exposed to low levels of mercury are likely to suffer from neurological disorders such as, lowered intelligence Quotient, and decreased functioning in attention, language, memory, fine motor skills, and visual-spatial abilities.
Other effects are in DNA and chromosomal damage, and allergic reactions, resulting in skin rashes, tiredness, and headaches, higher levels have been found to cause mental retardation. It has also been linked to non-neurological disorders such as, lung and kidney damage, and even death.
Dr. Deogratious Sekimpi, the Acting Executive Director, UNACOH told stakeholders not to underrate the dangers associated with the use of mercury because effects of exposure are dire. He called for a move from using mercury to using other methods of extraction like borax, gravitational flow, gold catcher, etc. He stressed a need for information sharing as well as a working symbiotic relationship between stakeholders in Buhweju and his organization.
Mr John Asiimwe, the district chairperson welcomed the interventions employed by UNACOH and pledged to rally the people of Buhweju against use of mercury towards a free mercury mining environment, adding that FREE YOUR MIND PROJECT sets in motion disease prevention, a message the district has been preaching together with the ministry of health.
“We did not know the effects of using mercury in mining until organizations like UNACOH came to Buhweju. This could help us in disease prevention, a message that we have always carried to our people. As stakeholders, it is important that we can have a free mercury community and also engage in disease prevention.” Mr Asiimwe rallied stakeholders