Group eyes 5,000 Diwalwal miners to use mercury-free facility

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/23 May) — Environmental group BAN Toxics on Friday said it aims to convince 5,000 small-scale miners in Mt. Diwata in Monkayo, Compostela Valley province, to use mercury-free gold processing facility.

The number represents close to 30 percent of about 18,000 small miners in the area.

The facility, which was launched Friday for the first time in Mindanao, will apply the Benguet Method that has been popularized by BAN Toxics.

Evelyn Cubelo, the group’s artisanal and small-scale mining program manager, said in a press conference here that such method is a traditional technique developed and widely used by indigenous tribes in Benguet.

The facility utilizes gravity and borax, instead of mercury. She said borax is a chemical compound that is less toxic compared to mercury when handled properly.

“We continue to look for the best alternative technology that is most effective in doing away with toxic chemicals in the future,” Cubelo said.

She mentioned that at the national level, groups have been studying on the permanent storage of mercury as it is a persistent chemical.

All of Benguet’s 2,500 small-scale miners are already using such mercury-free facility, she noted.

The project will be a series of “miners-training-miners” in which BAN Toxics will bring in miners from other parts of the country who have abandoned mercury use to train their counterparts in Mt. Diwata. The pioneering group of trainees is expected to share their knowledge to other miners in the area.

A miner-trainer, Rudy Unos, also at the press conference, said they are doing the project to preserve the environment for the next generations.

While the demo facility is funded by the project, a small-scale miner can acquire his or her own mercury-free gold processing facility for about P100,000.

Cubelo cited that using such facility would result in 70-percent efficiency in gold recovery, and higher karat than that in a method using mercury.

The group said Mt. Diwata, locally known as Diwalwal, has gained global notoriety for its rampant use of mercury. It is considered as one of the biggest gold deposits in the country with P2 billion worth of gold produced annually as estimated by the Central Bank of the Philippines.

Under Executive Order 79 in 2012, it has become illegal to use mercury in small-scale mining.

But unregulated markets have made mercury available to local miners at P5,000 to P8,000 per kilo, the environment group said. (Lorie Ann Cascaro/MindaNews)