By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz
The Philippines has begun to eliminate the use of mercury in small-scale mining through a five-year project funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
The GEF-Global Opportunities for Long-Term Development (GEF-GOLD) project, which will be implemented by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), aims to promote legislation to legalize and support artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM), while encouraging miners to extract gold using environment-friendly alternatives to mercury.
DENR Undersecretary Analiza Rebuelta Teh said the project was a way to help small-scale miners who are willing to abide by government policies on responsible mining practices.
Teh said the project is expected to help the Philippines “contribute to the elimination of mercury in ASGM through a supply chain approach from miners to refiners.”
“We hope that small-scale miners will see mercury-free gold mining as viable,” said Teh, who also serves as operational focal point person of GEF-Philippines.
Mercury, also known as quicksilver, is widely used in ASGM as a “magnet” to extract gold that is mixed with soil and other sediments in ores.
This practice exposes miners to the metal, which is known for its toxicity that could affect the nervous, immune and digestive systems.
Aside from the Philippines, the GEF-GOLD project which has an allocation of $45 million is also being implemented in Peru, Colombia, Guyana, Indonesia, Kenya, Burkina Faso, and Mongolia.
In the Philippines, the project sites are the towns of Maco in Compostela Valley, T’boli in South Cotabato, and Rosario in Agusan del Sur.
The components of the project include a review of policies and legal frameworks supporting the ASGM sector; introduction of financing schemes allowing miners to invest in sustainable mercury-free technologies; upscaling of these technologies; dissemination of information to ensure replication; and monitoring and evaluation.
Based on the data by the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau, there are a total of 38 small-scale mining sites in Caraga Region, while 78 exist in the Cordillera Administrative Region.
Aside from promoting mercury-free gold mining, the GEF-GOLD project also aims to address issues involving ASGM such as working conditions, child labor, and gender gap.
The project is also one of the strategies as the Philippines aims to be mercury-free under the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which is yet to be ratified by Senate.
Apart from ASGM, mercury has also been detected in some fuels, recycled metals, and consumer products like whitening cosmetics, batteries, and dental fillers.