Bolivia is concerned about the uncontrolled use of mercury in gold mining

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BOLIVIA MINING

La Paz, May 3 (EFE) .- The Bolivian Ombudsman warned this Tuesday about the lack of actions by the State to control and reduce the use of mercury in gold mining, which has increased worryingly in recent years, with harmful effects especially for indigenous peoples.

These considerations are found in the report “Status of Implementation and Compliance with the Minamata Convention on Mercury 2017-2022” presented by the interim Ombudsman, Nadia Cruz.

Cruz recalled that the Bolivian State signed the Minamata Convention in 2013, an international agreement that regulates the impact of mercury on health and the environment, and put it into force in August 2017.

“Since that moment, few actions have been taken regarding gold mining,” the main activity that uses mercury in its production chain, he said.

The review of official information revealed “quite worrying data” such as the “alarming” amount of mercury that has entered the country in recent years, he said.

According to Cruz, in 2010 the volume of imported mercury was less than two tons and from that year until 2014, the annual figure “never exceeded 16 tons.”

However, from a new mining legal framework established in 2015, the importation of mercury “shoots up” to an average of 150 tons per year, he pointed out.

The latest national inventory of mercury emission sources, dating from 2017, shows that gold mining is “responsible for more than 80% of mercury releases into the environment.”

The defender argued that more attention should be paid to this area, since there was also a strong increase in gold extraction between 2015 and 2020, with an average annual exploitation of 20 tons and a peak of 42 tons in 2019.

Of the more than 2,000 mining cooperatives that operate in Bolivia, 70% are gold mining, “this sector being the one that extracts 97% of the country’s gold,” he said.

SALE AND USE WITHOUT CONTROL

Cruz explained that gold mining uses mercury in the “concentration or benefit” stage of the mineral “as a mechanism that allows the highest revenue for the miner at a low cost.”

The defender stated that “the distribution of mercury is not known with precision” once it is brought into the country and that the sale of the element “at retail” is done “without any type of registration or adequate control.”

For this reason, “the real volumes of mercury that would be reaching gold mining regions, the movement of sales of this input and if it is complying with the regulations related to the handling and handling of dangerous substances are not known,” he warned.

The Ombudsman concluded that the State at all levels “has not established the material, technical and economic conditions to protect human health and the environment” from mercury emissions.

One of the main observations is the lack of a national plan to reduce the use of mercury that includes information on the consequences of exposure to this element and a detailed record of sales on the domestic market, as established by the Minamata Convention. .

MINERS AND INDIGENOUS

The report also warned about the resistance of mining cooperatives to regulations on the use of mercury and pointed out that this sector should be included in the measures taken to comply with the Minamata Convention.

Cruz pointed out that “the impact is already tangible and evident” beyond the lack of official reports and that “the mining activity may not cease, but it has to be friendly with respect for human rights, the rights of indigenous peoples and Mother Earth”.

He also indicated that the health of the indigenous peoples of the Bolivian Amazon who are exposed to mercury, such as the Esse Ejja, Leco, Tacana and Pacahuara, deserves “special consideration”.

The case of the Esse Ejja is particularly worrying, as they are at risk of physical and cultural extinction due to mercury contamination of their territories and fish resources, the basis of their diet, he warned.

The recommendations of the report aim to generate “participatory” dialogues to develop the national plan that allows compliance with the agreement. EFE

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