Nov '06

WHO: urgent action needed to combat poisoning from artisanal gold mining in Africa

Virtually every country in Africa has some form of artisanal and small scale mining, however artisinal mining practices can be highly dangerous.

WHO: Action needed against poison from artisanal mining in Africa

African artisinal miners use toxic chemicals when mining, causing extreme damage to health.

Ministers, officials and health experts from across Africa, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations met to push forward action to halt the damaging effects of artisanal and small scale gold mining on human health and the environment today (6 November). Virtually every country in Africa has some form of artisanal and small scale mining with more than 54 million Africans estimated to be dependent on the activity for their livelihoods.

“Small scale gold mining is a crucial source of income for millions of Africans, but it is often dangerous, damaging, and in the worst cases, deadly, for artisanal miners,” said Dr Magaran Bagayoko, Director, Communicable Diseases Cluster, WHO’s Regional Office for Africa.

The artisanal and small-scale gold miners often use mercury, a highly toxic chemical to separate their gold from ore, putting their health at great risk. Alternatives to mercury do exist, but for many miners, operating independently without government support, income trumps the health and environmental risks. Many of the people involved in this hidden and often informal activity are the most vulnerable in society with women representing more than 50% of the miners.“Exposure to elemental mercury can cause life-long disability, kidney failure and speech, sight and cognitive impairment,” said Dr Bagayokoi. “Women, pregnant women and children are at particular risk.”