The Philippines has embarked on a five-year project aimed at eliminating the use of the highly toxic mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM).

The project, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) as the implementing agency, aims to promote legislation to legalize and support ASGM while encouraging miners to extract gold using environment friendly alternatives to mercury.

DENR Undersecretary AnalizaRebueltaTeh said the GEF-Global Opportunities for Long-Term Development or GEF-GOLD project is a way to help small-scale miners who are willing to abide by government policies on responsible mining practices.

Teh said the project is expected to help the Philippines “contribute to the elimination of mercury in ASGM through a supply chain approach from miners to refiners.”

“We hope that small-scale miners will see mercury-free gold mining as viable,” said Teh, who also serves as operational focal point person of GEF-Philippines.

Mercury, also known as “quicksilver,” is widely used in ASGM as a “magnet” to extract gold that is mixed with soil and other sediments in ores. This exposes miners to the metal, which is known for its toxicity that could affect the nervous, immune and digestive systems.

Aside from the Philippines, the GEF-GOLD project which has an allocation of US$45 million is also being implemented in Peru, Colombia, Guyana, Indonesia, Kenya, Burkina Faso and Mongolia.

In the Philippines, the project sites are the towns of Maco in Compostela Valley, T’boli in South Cotabato and Rosario in Agusan del Sur.

The components of the project include a review of policies and legal frameworks supporting the ASGM sector; introduction of financing schemes allowing miners to invest in sustainable mercury-free technologies; upscaling of these technologies; dissemination of information to ensure replication; and monitoring and evaluation.

According to the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau, there are a total of 38 small-scale mining sites in the Caraga region, while 78 exist in the Cordillera Administrative Region.

Small-scale mining is protected and regulated under Republic Act 7076 or the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act, as well as Executive Order 79, which provides for the establishment or declaration of “minahang bayan.”

To date, there are 26 sites which have been declared “minahang bayan”.

Aside from promoting mercury-free gold mining, the GEF-GOLD project also aims to address issues involving ASGM such as working conditions, child labor and gender gap.

The project is also one of the strategies as the Philippines aims to be mercury-free under the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which is yet to be ratified by Senate.

Apart from ASGM, mercury has also been detected in some fuels, recycled metals, and consumer products like whitening cosmetics, batteries and dental fillers.

Earlier this year, an assessment on environmental impacts of mercury identified four sites with confirmed mercury contamination, and 11 others suspected with the presence of the metal, including Manila Bay. ###