May 2006 World Bank awarded funding for a project entitled:
Training of Small Scale Miners and their Families in Safe Handling of Mercury During Extraction of Gold in the Philippines. Improving Access to Social Services: health services and income opportunities for Small Scale Miners and Their Families.
Further funding has been granted by Maximo T. Kalaw Institute and by the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland and by local governmental sources.
The project was carried out during the period November 2006 to April 2007 by:
Maximo T. Kalaw Institute for Sustainable Development. ( www.mtkalawinstitute.com )
Cordillera News Agency Foundation
Zamboanga del Norte Center for Social Concerns and Development
Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (www.geus.dk)
Young boy about to dive into a narrow shaft filled with muddy water. He has a plastic hose in his mouth for air supply. He will be digging gold ore 6.5 metres below the surface for the next 4 hours. Camarines Norte on Southeast Luzon
Small-scale mining project in the Philippines carried out during March 2007. The project was financed by World Bank Manila and GEUS
Training of Small Scale Miners and their Families in Safe Handling of Mercury During Extraction of Gold in the Philippines. Improving Access to Social Services: health services and income opportunities for Small Scale Miners and Their Families
Summary and recommendations Two small-scale mining districts were investigated: Sibutad in Zamboanga del Norte on Mindanao, and several villages in Camarines Norte: Barangay Casalugan, Paracale; Barangay Luklukan, Jose Panganiban and Barangay Gumaus, Paracale on southern Luzon. A brief visit was also paid to milling stations for small-scale miners in Benguet North of Manila.
The main finding of the project was that the small-scale miners in the investigated communities release excessive amounts of mercury. They use in the order of 10 to 25 grams of mercury to recover one gram of gold, whereas small-scale miners in other parts of the World use about one gram of mercury to recover one gram of gold. The small-scale miners visited in this project in the two areas release approximately 5 tonne of mercury every year. This result is in good agreement with previous investigations. A report by the Department of Health submitted to UNEP in 2001 concludes that some 140 tons of mercury is released annually to the environment from small-scale mining in Northern Mindanao. These figures show that the gold extraction methods presently used by small-scale miners in large parts of the Philippines create a ticking bomb for the environment and for the health of the people of the Philippines. This ticking bomb can, however, with inexpensive means, mainly education, be disarmed.
Mercury is released partly as metallic mercury and partly as a mercury cyanide compound, both of which are exceedingly toxic and will over time end in the mangrove swamps along the coast line and from there enter the food chain. Numerous fish and shellfish hatch in the mangrove swamps. The population of the Philippines consumes fish almost every day and many of them have fish three times a day. Fish concentrate mercury as methylated mercury which directly enters the human body during consumption of the fish.
There is fortunately an easy, inexpensive way out, an easy way to stop release of mercury to the environment. This will not require advanced techniques or purchase of expensive equipment. All that is needed is to teach the small-scale miners a technique, which has been used for more than a decade by small-scale miners in the Benguet area North of Manila. The solution may prevent further pollution with mercury of the environment, but cannot clean the mercury that has already been released over the years.
Teaching and training courses for small-scale miners and health providers (medical doctors, nurses and midwifes) were held at Sibutad in Zamboanga and at three barangays in Camarines. The courses were well attended. In all about two hundred small-scale miners and health providers attended. Short lectures on dangers of mercury were also conducted for elementary school and high school classes in both areas. In total about 600 school children were told about the dangers of mercury. The small-scale miners and especially the children were alarmed by the news that so much mercury is released and they all seemed very willing to adopt new techniques.
Child labour was not encountered in Zamboanga del Norte, but was frequently met in Camarines Norte. Many children worked in small-scale mining. Some of them only worked during week-ends, whereas others worked seven days a week and for that reason did not attend school. Many of the children working with gold extraction use mercury.
A forum that was convened in Manila to report the initial findings and activities and to heighten the awareness of representatives of the NGO community, academia, national funding institutions, and government agencies such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
A hand out for small-scale miners and medical personnel was produced and distributed in the investigated areas. The hand out describes paths of mercury transport in the environment and the most obvious symptoms of mercury poisoning of humans, see Appendix E.
The following initiatives are recommended:
Initiation of a ‘school’ for small-scale miners. The school should provide short courses for small-scale miners from the different small-scale mining communities of the Philippines. The school could be located in the Benguet area, where the local small-scale miners do not use mercury for extraction of gold.
Establishment of an exchange programme with groups of small-scale miners from one area exchanging work areas with small-scale miners from other areas. Hands-on training sessions will ensure that the best available techniques from the different small-scale mining areas of the Philippines will be known all over the country.
An immediate nationwide information campaign and training of health care personnel in toxicity of mercury and symptoms of mercury poisoning.
Creation of multi-sectoral monitoring teams (including medical personnel, school officials and youth leaders, small scale miner-leaders), which will monitor use of devices and techniques that will reduce the use and release of mercury.
Setting up a mechanism for recognition and reward for milling stations applying gold extraction methods using no or minimal amounts of mercury.
Rising of funds for financing of school-fees for children working as small-scale miners.
In June 2007 a small group of small-scale miners from Zamboanga and Camarines will attend a teaching and training course in Benguet.