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East Africa: Initiative to phase out use of mercury in artisanal mining will reduce health & environmental hazards

Author: Kennedy Senelwa, The EastAfrican (Kenya), Published on: 19 June 2017

"East Africa leads efforts to cut use of mercury in mining"

East Africa is driving a global initiative to phase out the use of mercury in mining, as it is harmful to human health and the environment. Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Burundi have announced plans to phase out use of mercury in artisanal mining of gold, which tends to be poorly regulated due to the remote locations of the mines. Mercury is used to recover gold pieces mixed in soil and sediments. Mercury and gold settle to form an amalgam, then the gold is extracted by vaporising the mercury through heating. The miners use rudimentary equipment — blowtorch or stoves at home. The miners inhale the vapour from the amalgamation, to the detriment of their health...

UNDP head of programme in Kenya David Maina said exposure to mercury, even in small amounts, may cause serious health problems, including affecting a foetus. “Mercury can be passed from mother to foetus or breastfeeding baby. Exposure to mercury is high in children and teenagers,” he said. UNDP supports Kenya’s efforts to phasing out mercury from early 2018 by strengthening institutions through technical assistance, technology transfer and awareness on the dangers of mercury...

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