A section of artisanal gold miners at Kitumbi Sub-county in Kassanda District have asked government to restrict the use of mercury in gold mines, citing health risks and its negative effects on the environment.
Mr Levi Mbireeba, a member of the Kitumbi- Kayonza Miners Association, on Wednesday said continued use of mercury has caused huge losses at his farm.
“I discovered the effects of the mercury after inviting soil scientists who informed me about the mercury substances that have penetrated the soils and caused loss of soil nutrients. The tomatoes and cabbage gardens that I planted failed to grow,” Mr Mbireeba said.
“After several trials, I abandoned the farming projects on land near the gold mines. When we invited the experts to find out why the tomatoes and cabbages were getting dry, the answer was the effects of mercury substances within the soils,” he added.
Mr Mbireeba said attempts to introduce the use of borax as an alternative that has been proved to be safe for health and environment have been futile.
He called for regulation of mercury importation and a possible ban to leave the miners with borax as the only option.
The miners want government to team up with civil society organisations to boost sensitisation programmes about the dangers of using mercury.
Mr Michael Agaba, another gold miner, says several of his colleagues have complained of absorption of mercury into their skin causing rashes, headache, backpain and constant body tremors.
The National Association of Professional Environments (NAPE) in collaboration with Global Environment Facility, a small grants programme, and the United Nations Development Programme have already rolled out training sessions for some gold miners on the use of borax.
“It is our prayer that government rolls out a deliberate programme targeting all the artisanal miners in the country, Mr Agaba said.
Ms Peruth Atukwatse, the officer in charge of chemicals management and climate change at NAPE last week said, with the support from the GEF-Uganda, she is optimistic that the health of miners and the environment will be safeguarded.
She said borax has been used by miners in Buhweju, Namayingo and other districts, adding that it has been more effective than mercury.
Ms Atukwatse said the introduction of borax is in line with Minamata Convention on mercury which was adopted in 2013, of which Uganda is a signatory.
The convention set clear time-bound target to phase out the manufacture, export and import of mercury and mercury added products.
“As NAPE, we aim at reducing the health and environmental risks of mercury and we shall continue to sensitise miners on borax use until mercury use is completely phased out,” Ms Atukwatse said.
In 2018, government allowed the artisanal gold miners to return to the mining sites in Kassanda and Mubende districts after they had earlier been evicted over what government termed as illegal mineral extraction.