New gold-extracting equipment makes no use of toxic mercury and can save the lives of many gold miners.
On Monday, Sweden’s World Gold Link Company introduced the machine at the Osiri-Matanda gold and copper mines in Macalder, Nyatike subcounty.
The machine does not use mercury to coagulate and purify gold from the mud after the ore is swirled in a basin of water.
Mercury is a deadly neuro-toxin. It affects the cerebellum, which coordinates movements. It harms the kidneys and other organs and can cause birth defects. Neurological damage is irreversible and can cause death. Mercury, cadmium and lead levels are high in Migori. They contaminate soil and water.
Company country manager Joseph Chege said they picked the mines as they are the country’s oldest. Up to 30,000 miners have flocked to Migori, many are farmers who fled drought-stricken areas.
“The main purpose of the machines is to ensure all gold mines are rid of mercury that affects the health of many miners,” Chege said.
He said women are the worst affected as they sift water and dust to get the gold, using mercury deposits.
Company mining specialist Rulph Guildstrom, who demonstrated the machine, said compared to the current equipment, the new one makes work easier, faster and more efficient.
Currently, miners make sieves with wooden frames covered with sisal sacks. Mud is passed over and gold extracts get stuck in the sisal. The sacks are later rinsed with clean water before mercury is added by hand to coagulate the gold.
Later the extract is heated to purify the gold. This also exposes miners to mercury as they inhale the fumes. Mines coordinator Eunice Atieno said, “We have been hit by cancer deaths in the mines in addition to TB. We hope the Mining ministry will ensure we get the machines at affordable prices,” she said. There is little research on a link between mercury and cancer.
New miners come from Nyatike, Suna West, Kuria West and Rongo subcounties.