… ascertaining potential link with mercury poisoning Following reports in the media of the recent deaths of four Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) workers that could be mercury related, the Natural Resources Ministry has confirmed the deaths.The deceased staffers are: Dwayne De Jonge (ranger), Latchman Chiti (surveyor), Leroy Green (carpenter) and Clement Proffit (lab technician).According to the Ministry in a statement, it has received no official or formal report indicating that the men – who this publication understands all died this year – were victims of the mercury contamination that has plagNatural Resources Minister Raphael Trotmanued the GGMC compound over the past few months.“The Ministry of Natural Resources will await a report to this effect from the GGMC and will again engage the workers about any grievances that may exist. Further, there is simply no existing empirical data which establish that mercury is responsible for the deaths of miners and GGMC workers in recent times.”However, the Ministry did admit that efforts are in train to scientifically establish whether there is a link.“No effort and no expense will be spared in pursuit of the truth and the protection of the workers,” the Ministry said.The Ministry’s admission of the employees’ death came after the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) on Friday questioned the death of the four employees while in a public statement expressed condolence to the relatives of the deceased staffers.According to the PPP, the issue is one that must be addressed urgently by the relevant authorities.The Party also raised possible links to the mercury poisoning that had afflicted workers at the GGMC during amalgam burning exercises. According to the PPP, all four men were documented to have been affected by mercury poisoning.“These four deaths, which follow each other in such a short period of time, should be a cause for serious concern. It is disturbing that the Government and the GGMC have been reluctant to inform the staff and public about actions taken to ensure protection of not only staffers, but also those in surrounding communities,” the party said.“This is not a political issue,” the party had stressed. “The PPP will support the Government of Guyana to ensure that every effort is made to guarantee the health and safety of our people. We therefore urge immediate action by the relevant authorities including management of the GGMC and the Ministry of Public Health, to ensure the occupational health and safety standards are in place.”According to the Party, precautionary measures such as testing and treatment for all staff must be operationalised by the GGMC and the Public Health Ministry. The cost for this, the party advised, should be borne by GGMC.Mercury and effects on humansFollowing the discovery of high levels of mercury in its laboratory, which is in the GGMC compound, the Guyana Gold Board (GGB) had contracted the services of Trinidad-based Kaizen Environmental Services to conduct an independent investigation of the effect of the emission, and that company has said the mercury levels are back to normal.According to the report, the study was conducted on March 28 at 10 locations, primarily located within the Guyana Geology and Mines Commissions’ compound and the surrounding areas.“The Mercury (Hg) levels monitored at all 10 locations were within the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (US OSHA) eight-hour Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL),” the report stated.Out of over 130 staffers tested, it was discovered that more than 60 reported high levels of mercury in their system. Trotman, appearing before the National Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee, had subsequently revealed that the Gold Board had moved its gold burning operations to a private dealer.According to research, the improper handling of Mercury can cause detrimental impacts on anyone, who is exposed to it without proper protection. This toxic poisonous heavy metal, which can induce public health disasters, can lead to horrendous effect on the neurological, reproductive, gastrointestinal and renal organ systems.Research shows that mercury can enter the body through inhalation of mercury vapour, ingestion, injection or even absorption through the skin. In the case of mining personnel, a reading showing levels of 0-6 micro grams per litre is considered safe while 7-10 is high and above 11 dangerous.The inhalation of mercury damages the brain, mercurous salts then forms causing remarkable changes to lining of the gut and kidneys. Once in the human system, mercury poisoning has horrendous effects on neurological, reproductive, gastro intestinal and renal organs. In particular, mercury targets the GI track and kidneys.Acute clinical presentation of mercuric salt poisoning, generally targets the GI tract and kidneys leading to abdominal pain, bloody diarrhoea with potential necrosis of the gut mucosa. This may produce death either from peritonitis or from sceptic or hypervolemic shock.Numerous studies have shown the impact of mercury cannot be reversed easily without long-term damage.