The government will ban the use of mercury in small-scale gold mines by 2018. (Reuters Photo/Jose Cabezas)

Gov't to Phase Out Mercury Use in Small-Scale Mining


OCTOBER 20, 2017

Jakarta. The government will ban the use of mercury in small-scale gold mines by 2018, an official at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry said on Friday (20/10).

"The ban on mercury use will be prioritized as a national program, as has been urged by the president," the ministry's environmental pollution control department secretary Ade Palguna said.

Ade said the government has been concerned about the serious environmental and health damages from mercury use. For many miners, however, it is still the quickest way to process gold.

Yuyun Ismawati, environmental activist and co-founder of BaliFokus said the devastating effects of mercury poisoning were first observed in 1986, 30 years after a factory in Minamata, Japan, dumped the metal into the city's bay, contaminating fish and shellfish.

"After years of eating the contaminated seafood, residents began to show symptoms of the so-called Minamata disease," Yuyun said.

The House of Representatives ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury in October. The treaty, which aims to protect human health and the environment from emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds, will also check the metal's export and import.

A social campaign for the ban on mercury use will be introduced by the ministry in cooperation with the United States Embassy in Jakarta. According to Ade, an immediate action is needed not only to mitigate the already existing mercury pollution, but also to prevent it.

"The longer we handle the impacts of mercury, the higher costs we will have to bear," he said.

Mercury is known to cause health problems, which may occur after many years from exposure. They include brain damage, kidney, skin and eye problems, and dysfunctional neurological development in children.