Mercury ban divides small minersPhilippine Daily Inquirer
BAGUIO CITY—The mercury ban imposed by President Aquino through his new mining policy, Executive Order No. 79, has helped push an advocacy campaign to make Benguet mercury-free by 2015.
But an official of a group of small-scale miners in Benguet, who is pursuing this drive, said the ban has worried small-scale mining associations in southern Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao.
Lomino Kaniteng, president of the Benguet Federation of Small-Scale Miners (BFSSM), said only one line in EO 79 addresses mercury, “but it is the most important one for our campaign.”
Section 11 of the directive says “the use of mercury in small-scale mining shall be strictly prohibited.”
Long exposure to mercury affects the nervous system, the immune system and digestive tracts of humans. The World Health Organization (WHO) says elemental or metallic mercury vaporizes readily and can stay for up to a year in the atmosphere.
“It ultimately settles in the sediment of lakes, rivers or bays where it is transformed into methylmercury (organic mercury), [that is] absorbed by phytoplankton, ingested by zooplankton and fish,” WHO said in its website.
Kaniteng said the prohibition has been incorporated in the group’s education campaign, which is being conducted around pocket mining communities in Benguet, Mt. Province, Ifugao, Abra, Kalinga and Apayao.
In Benguet, the campaign has brought down mercury use among pocket miners to 30 percent, although there has been an increase in small-scale mining activities because of high prices of world metals, Kaniteng said.
He said BFSSM records showed that the number of small-scale miners in the province increased from 20,000 to 30,000 this year, owing to migrants from the Ilocos.
Kaniteng’s group is supported by Basel Action Network (BAN Toxic), the Seattle-based organization behind a Philippine campaign to remove mercury in industries and household items.
A 2010 BAN Toxic survey of mining tenements, including Benguet small-scale mine shacks, showed high mercury vapor traces in the air, which were 30 times higher than the mandated safety levels.
Kaniteng said many small-scale mining groups have heeded BFSSM’s warnings.
“The latest association to cooperate with our mercury ban crusade is a group in Balbalan, Kalinga, which informed BFSSM that they would start replacing mercury with borax to extract gold,” he said.
But some groups in southern Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao still use mercury to separate metal ore from rocks, and may go to underground mercury suppliers because they may not have the resources to shift to safer ore milling procedures.
“Whole ore amalgamation” involves pouring liquid mercury on ore to break apart rock and soil and extract gold, Kaniteng said.
BAN Toxic officials earlier said mercury use in Mindanao may have been introduced in the 1970s by miners who used to work in Benguet, an information that Kaniteng does not dispute.
Kaniteng said the government could stop an underground mercury retail system from flourishing by immediately banning mercury importation. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon