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Philippine miners agree to stop mercury use

Eco-friendly gold mining techniques to be brought in

Jefrey Tupas, Davao City
Philippines

May 23, 2014

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Some 200 small-scale miners in the gold rush village of Mount Diwata in the Southern Philippines entered into an agreement with an environmental justice group on Thursday to end the use of mercury in mining.

Part of the deal calls for the group Ban Toxics!, in partnership with the UN Industrial Development Organization, and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, to open a mercury-free gold processing facility.

Eve Cubelo, artisanal and small-scale gold mining program manager of Ban Toxics!, said her group will introduce local miners to the 'Benguet Method', a gold mining approach used by inhabitants of the northern province of Benguet where borax, or sodium borate, are used to extract gold from ore instead of mercury.

"The method is so far the best alternative to the mining practice that involves mercury," said Cubelo, adding that they are still exploring other methods.

"Ultimately, we hope to totally eliminate the use of mercury in the small-scale mining industry," she told ucanews.com.

Pedro Samillano, village chief of Mount Diwata, said the offer from Ban Toxics! is worth a try. "We want to take part in this change," he said.

Mount Diwata is known to have one of the largest gold deposits in the country. Government estimates that some $46 million worth of gold is produced in the area annually. 

Mount Diwata, however, has gained global notoriety for the use of mercury.

"We believe the small-scale miners of Mount Diwata are willing to change if they were given the chance and the choice," said Richard Gutierrez, executive director of Ban Toxics!

"The facility we are putting up will give them the alternative they need to let go of mercury," he said.

The use of mercury in small-scale mining activities has been banned by the government since 2012, but miners continue to use it.

Some 70 metric tons of mercury is estimated to be discharged annually in the Philippines, according to data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

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