The Japan-based Advanced Industrial Science and Technology has partnered with Philippine environmental justice group Ban Toxics (BT) to push the banning of mercury, a highly-poisonous substance found in dental amalgam and many household products like batteries, appliances, lamps and paints.
Mercury, a neurotoxin, can cause irreversible brain and nervous system damage, and is a particular hazard for the developing fetus and small children. It can cause other serious diseases, including acrodynia, Hunter-Russell syndrome, Parkinsonism, and Minamata disease. It is also being used in the production of gold by small-scale mining operation across the Philippines.
Dr. Satoshi Murao, senior research scientist of the Japanese group, raised concerns over the use of mercury despite the risks.
“The continuous use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining operations is guaranteed to contaminate the irrigation and water systems,” Murao said in a statement issued by Ban Toxics on Friday. “This has a damaging effect on communities whose livelihood relies heavily on farming and fishing.”
The use of mercury in the two operations, he added, contributes up to 30 per cent of the country’s annual mercury releases. A study conducted by the United Nations Environment Program also points to ASGM as the single largest mercury-emitting sector in the world.
Ban Toxics Program Manager Evelyn Cubelo said the National Government should start banning mercury in the country if it wants to avoid a probable hazardous impact on the environment.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources—Environment Management Bureau estimates the annual mercury discharge from the ASGM sector at around 70 metric tons.
Studies conducted by the Department of Health also found that surface water quality exceeded the recommended total permissible mercury standards (at NV>0.002ng/ml) in abandoned mine areas. In addition, a United Nations Industrial Development Organization commissioned study showed that mine workers from Mt. Diwalwal and impacted barangays in the lowland area of Monkayo exhibited symptoms of mercury intoxication.
“Executive Order 79 is a start. However, efforts from the Philippine government can further be intensified with the immediate ratification of the Minamata Convention,” said Evelyn Cubelo, BT project manager.
While the Philippines already signed the Minamata Convention, ratification is needed from the Philippine government to put the Convention’s obligations to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds in force.
“BAN Toxics has made headway in transitioning miners away from mercury. However, the Philippine government needs to eliminate the trade and supply of mercury in the country to finally rout this noxious substance in our environment,” Cubelo added.