Maputo — The Mozambican government intends to eliminate the use of Mercury in industry, artisanal mining and other sectors of activity by 2020, to protect human health from the effects of this highly toxic heavy metal.
To this end, the government, in partnership with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), on Monday launched a national inventory on mercury under the terms of the Minimata Convention, which Mozambique signed in 2013.
This convention is an international treaty intended to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.
The representative at the meeting of the Ministry of Land, Environment and Rural Development, Laura Nhantumbo, told AIM the inventory seeks to identify the areas of the country where mercury is used, the quantities involved and the impact on the environment.
"We shall map the entire country, but particularly the central and northern regions where mercury is used in small scale mining, to separate out gold and other substances", she said. "We shall identify other sectors that use products containing mercury".
Nhantumbo, who is the Ministry's focal point for the Minamata Convention, said that mercury is used in artisanal mining in the central provinces of Manica, Sofala and Tete, and in Nampula, Cabo Delgado and Niassa in the north. There have been repeated reports of mercury from mining operations contaminating rivers, including those that provide drinking water.
Mercury is also used in some medical products, thermometers, and cosmetics, although it is being phased out in all of these.
Nhantumbo warned that regular exposure to mercury could affect the health of many thousands of Mozambicans. Mercury poisoning can cause severe damage to the brain, kidneys and lungs, leading to sensory impairment, delirium, hallucinations, muscular spasms and loss of memory, among many other physical and mental problems.
The National Director of the Environment, Ivete Maibaze, who opened the meeting, said that the increase in artisanal mining is a challenge for environmental sustainability which guarantees the quality of human life.
"We are called upon to take measures to reduce the use of mercury and its compounds, and to promote economically and environmentally viable alternatives", she said.
The government, she stressed, must take immediate action, given the dangers that flow from the use of mercury. "We can't wait any longer", she said, "we must act now, to reduce the emissions and releases of mercury, which pollute the rivers, the soils and the air".
Measures must be taken, Maibaze said, not only to replace mercury with less toxic substances, but also to avoid the illegal entry of mercury into the country.
The inventory will run from May to December this year.