Alternative to mercury rises in Diwalwal
DAVAO CITY, Philippines—The environment group Basel Action Network (BAN) Toxics has opened a gold processing facility that it said offered an alternative to the continued use of mercury by small-scale miners in the gold rush area of Diwalwal in Monkayo town, Compostela Valley.
Evelyn Cubelo, program manager of BAN Toxics’ artisanal and small-scale gold mining project, said the new facility, which doesn’t use mercury, presented a cheaper and safer alternative to ore processing.
BAN Toxics’ method uses borax and relies on gravity, the same method being used in traditional mining areas in Benguet province. Borax is a common industrial and household cleaning compound.
Mt. Diwata, which holds one of the country’s largest gold deposits contributing P2 billion worth of the country’s gold find a year according to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas estimates, is known for the rampant use of mercury for small-scale mining.
“At the moment, it’s very urgent that we end the use of mercury in gold processing because of the danger it poses to health and the environment,” Cubelo said.
She said borax, if handled properly, is less toxic than mercury and easily disintegrates and dissipates into the air.
“It is still the best alternative technology that we have now while we continue to look for better technology that will not threaten people’s health and will not pollute the environment,” Cubelo said.
BAN Toxics, according to Cubelo, seeks to lure at least 5,000 small-scale miners into using the alternative method of ore processing.
The group said it was currently working with Federation of Small-Scale Miners in Mt. Diwata to push the use of borax.
“Considering that mercury costs some P8,000 per kilo, borax, which costs only P100 per kilo, will be a much cheaper alternative,” Cubelo said.
“We believe the small-scale miners of Mt. Diwata are willing to change if they’re given the chance and the choice,” said Richard Gutierrez, BAN Toxics executive director.
“The facility we are putting up will give them the alternative they need to let go of mercury,” he said.
Mercury use in small-scale mining was banned by Executive Order No. 79 in 2012. Although illegal, mercury can still be bought from unregulated markets.
A study by the United Nations Environment Program said artisanal and small-scale gold mining are the single largest source of mercury contamination worldwide.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environment Management Bureau estimates the annual mercury discharge in the Philippines at around 70 metric tons.
“We have witnessed many stories of the transformation of miners who stopped using mercury,” said Pedro Samillano, barangay chair of Mt. Diwata. “We want to take part in this change.”—Germelina Lacorte
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