Mercury and the Environment and Human Health
- 16 Jul
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Africa hosts a third of the world’s mineral wealth and has significant deposits of gold, Zimbabwe is no exception. The country’s endowment with vast gold reserves has given rise to artisanal gold mining, whose use of mercury in gold processing has brought several environmental and health impacts. World over, emerging evidence indicates that artisanal and small scale gold mining related mercury contamination, is contributing to serious health and ecological impacts and has raised concern among environmentalists.
Mercury is a persistent, highly toxic heavy metal whose continued inhalation can cause death. It is estimated that artisanal small scale miners, mostly from vulnerable backgrounds, active in the gold and diamond sectors, constitute more than half of all mineral exploitation in the world. UN environment estimates that 3, 5 million people are at risk of health impacts in artisanal and small scale gold mining sector of which 2, 5 million are in Africa. A research (Global Mercury Project) by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) which was conducted between 2007 to 2012 revealed that Zimbabwe had an estimated 500 000 artisanal gold miners, the number is expected to have increased over the years.