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Cycle 6 (2017 Deadline)

Exploring the fate of mercury in artisanal gold mining of the Lake Victoria Gold Field

PI: Clavery Tungaraza,, Sokoine University of Agriculture
U.S. Partner: Mark Cohen, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Project Dates: December 2017 - November 2020

Project Overview:

This study will investigate quantitative and qualitative mercury availability in the environment surrounding artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) locations in Tanzania, where mercury contamination is of concern with regard to the health of community members and others who consume food products originating from the area. Although mercury contamination can be lessened by appropriate controls and proper handling methods, such measures are not routinely applied in Tanzania, where mercury has been documented in different environments and studies. Mercury can be transported away from emission sources by riverine systems to large water bodies like Lake Victoria. The resulting fish contamination can be significant, which is a particularly serious issue as fish are the major protein source in the region and the whole country. In Tanzania, very little data is available on levels of methylmercury in biota and sediments and on the contribution that ASGM activities make to these levels. Further, there is little information on the relative importance of riverine and atmospheric processes in transporting mercury from sources to ecosystems. All these aspects must be taken into accoutn in order to understand the magnitude of mercury impacts on the environment and on human beings. This project will develop data on levels of mercury downwind and downstream from ASGM activities in water, suspended particulate matter, sediments, and fish and improve understanding of spatiotemporal variations of mercury levels. Inclusion of methylmercury in the analysis represents a significant extension of the PI’s earlier work.

Tanzania is now in the process of ratifying the Minamata Convention, a key goal of which is to raise awareness of health concerns, especially in developing countries, resulting from mercury exposure of vulnerable populations, especially women and children. Mercury emissions from ASGM activities in Tanzania cause food chain contamination that poses direct threats to vulnerable populations under the Convention. In preparation for ratifying the Minamata Convention, Tanzania needs to establish country-based information on the sources and extent of mercury contamination. The data and analysis generated in this project will help inform policies for protection of water quality and foodstuff safety, as well as provide scientific information to aid the formulation of the legal framework on mercury that will be needed for government regulations.

Summary of Recent Events

Over the past three months, the project has been executing preliminary preparations. These include: registration of the project at the University Finance Department and expenditure code allocation as per University requirement. The project has finalized purchase of inorganic mercury analyzer (MERX- Total mercury analyzer). The manufacturer will later do the installation. The PI and his team have also managed to access one of the study sites and sampled sediments from the area for preliminary screening of mercury. This has been achieved as part of graduate student research.

The environmental unit of the State Mining corporation has shown initial interests in exploring how artisan miners can shift from mercury use to other available options. The environmental unit is currently being strengthened. Upon finalization and when this project will have established the extent of mercury use, exchange of information will be done. It is within the anticipation that the results of this project will be able to show the extent of mercury use and miners behavior towards changing gold extraction method to using other environmentally friendly methods.

In the next 3-6 months, the project will initiate the first site visit as part of the baseline /reconnaissance survey for establishing at least three potential sites undertaking artisanal mining activities in Tanzania. Two sites are expected to be in the Northern lake Victoria region and one site will be in the Ruaha area, southern part of the country. The survey will also include sampling of sediments and biological samples mainly fish for preliminary screening in order to establish trends and levels of mercury contamination in the mining environment. Depending on the levels of contaminants (mercury) the project will engage in the detailed planning of sampling per each of the three seasons; short rain season, heavy rain season and dry season of the year. It is also envisaged that a publication is to be drafted, presenting the status of mercury distribution in the artisal mining environment.

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