By Joyce Mukucha
Following Zimbabwe’s ratification of the Minamata Convention banning the use of mercury in mining and regulatory measures for its release from industrial equipment, the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) said it will continue to fully monitor the use of the substance as a way to reduce or even phase out its usage and permission in the country.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a global treaty that protects human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury.
The convention was agreed at the fifth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on mercury in Geneva, Switzerland in January 2013 and adopted later that year on 10 October 2013 at a Diplomatic Conference (Conference of Plenipotentiaries), held in Kumamoto, Japan.
The Minamata Convention entered into force on 16 August 2017, on the 90th day after the date of deposit of the 50th instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval, or accession.
In an interview, EMA’s environmental education and publicity manager Ms. Amkela Sidange said mercury is classified as a hazardous substance in the country and pointed out the need to phase it out and control its anthropogenic releases throughout its lifecycle as a key factor in shaping the obligations under the Convention.
“We need to look at mercury as what we classify as a hazardous substance in the country. So mercury being a hazardous substance, EMA will actually regulate the transportation, storage, and usage of mercury. Therefore, we are working towards reducing its usage in the environment,” Ms. Sidange said.
The Convention draws attention to a global and ubiquitous metal that, while naturally occurring, has broad uses in everyday objects and is released to the atmosphere, soil, and water from a variety of sources.
Ms. Sidange added that “The Convention also addresses interim storage of mercury and its disposal once it becomes waste. EMA will remain mandated to monitor mercury’s transportation, storage, and usage in Zimbabwe and we are doing that.”
Major highlights of the Minamata Convention include a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing ones, the phase-out and phase-down of mercury use in a number of products and processes, control measures on emissions to air and on releases to land and water, and the regulation of the informal sector of artisanal and small-scale gold mining.
In Zimbabwe, elemental mercury is used in artisanal and small-scale gold mining where mercury is mixed with gold-containing materials, resulting in the formation of the mercury-gold amalgams mixed with gold-containing materials, resulting in the formation of the mercury-gold amalgam which is then heated, vaporizing the mercury to obtain the gold.
Zimbabwe signed the Convention in October 2013 as the 116th country to ratify the Treaty and the 51st in Africa.