The environmental justice and community development group Ban Toxics (BT) has partnered with the local government of Labo, Camarines Norte to embrace a mercury-free artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) in the gold-rich municipality.
The parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on February 9 to mark the beginning of activities that will help transition small-scale miners away from mercury to profitable, safer and toxic-free mining techniques.
Mayor Joseph Ascutia said the partnership aims to usher community development and prevent mercury pollution through technical and health trainings and intensive public information campaigns.
“As the local chief executive, I am very much willing to help and support BT’s advocacy for the prevention of the use of mercury in ASGM. The model training facility that we’re going to build for mercury-free mining will be a legacy I will be leaving behind to the people I love,” said Ascutia.
Camarines Norte’s gold reserves remain to be abundant and the province is home to a number of small-scale mining operations. A major challenge to the ASGM industry in Camarines Norte is the rampant use of mercury in its operations.
Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that persists in the environment once it is released. Studies show that there are no safe levels of exposure to mercury. According to The Journal of Pediatrics, even at minute amounts, it has been shown to adversely affect development and IQ levels of children exposed to mercury in the womb.
A 2007 study entitled Training of Small Scale Miners and their Families in Safe Handling of Mercury During Extraction of Gold in the Philippines by the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland revealed that mining communities in Camarines Norte use 10 to 25 times more mercury than other communities in other parts of the globe dealing with the same type of gold ore. The study also showed that approximately 4,500 kilograms of mercury is released from Camarines Norte into the environment every year.
Small-scale mining is the main source of livelihood for many of the families in and around the area. In 2006, the United Nations reported that the miners in the Philippines are found to have mercury levels up to 50 times above World Health Organisation limits, according to a study conducted by BT entitled National Strategic Plan for the Phaseout of Mercury in Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining in the Philippines.
“Mayor Ascutia and the local government of Labo, are taking a big step forward to protect the health of their constituents and help them improve their livelihood. We commend the initiative he has taken and hope that other municipalities facing the same situation emulate the example Labo is taking,” said Evelyn Cubelo, BT ASGM program manager.
“This partnership will help show that working without mercury in small-scale mines, can be done and that it does not compromise the livelihood of the miners and the community,” added Arlene Galvez, BT community coordinator in Labo.
BAN Toxics (BT) is an independent non-profit, non-government, environmental organization focused on the advancement of environmental justice, children’s health, toxics elimination and rural development through better chemicals management.