NGO trains Cam Norte teachers on mercury toxicity awareness

Camarines Norte science teachers awareness training about mercury-poisoning. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Camarines Norte science teachers awareness training about mercury-poisoning. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By Joey Natividad
Special Correspondent

DAET, CAMARINES NORTE ( – A non-government organization (NGO), specializing in raising awareness about mercury-poisoning, trained about 300 science teachers of public schools in Camarines Norte province last week with the objective of eliminating mercury toxicity and pollution in the communities and the environment.

The province is known for its small-scale gold mining activities and mercury has been extensively used for decades in trapping and melting gold. Rural mining villages in the gold-rich Camarines Norte mountain areas has applied mercury in the processing of gold. Diseases caused by mercury poisoning are rampant in the villages, but rural folks are ignorant about its toxicity and related symptoms and diseases.

In small scale mining, gold released from pulverized ores by ball- and rod-mill grinding operations is mixed with mercury to produce a silvery alloy called amalgam. The process is called amalgamation. The amalgam is melted by a blowtorch of intense heat to melt the gold into a mass, while the mercury evaporates into the air. Mercury, in its gaseous state, condenses again and falls back into the ground, contaminating ground water, plants and entering into the food-chain cycle, later to be ingested by humans and animals.

As a deadly neurotoxin, mercury is dangerous whether ingested or inhaled. Prolonged exposure to its fumes can hinder the development of children’s intellectual and physical development. In extreme cases, mercury poisoning can even lead to death. Families living in, or near small-scale gold mining sites, are continuously exposed to mercury fumes and residue.

Ban Toxics, a non-profit organization working for the protection of the environment and children’s health, coordinated with the Department of Education – Camarines Norte Division, in organizing a training-workshop last week as part of the organization’s efforts in reaching out to faculty and school administrators.

Through its Mercury-Free Schools Program, the group has been assisting both public and private schools into going mercury and toxics-free awareness. “Pursuing a learning environment that is secure and healthy for kids is of utmost concern,” explained Mercury-Free Schools Program coordinator Beng Reyes Ong. “We believe that children have the right to develop to their full potential and the presence of toxic substances in schools, such as mercury, poses a threat to that.”

Schools Division Superintendent, SDS Arnulfo Balane shared that the training-workshop is even more crucial for the region as Camarines Norte, which is home to a large number of small-scale gold mining sites, an industry cited by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as the number one contributor of mercury pollution into the atmosphere.

SDS Balane believes that Ban Toxics’ work with schools, hand in hand with Ban Toxics’ projects with small-scale gold miners, people will realize the dangers, and mercury will soon be phased-out and its threat to the health of communities and environment, a thing of the past.

In recent times, the Philippines has a number of mercury poisoning cases. The most known case involved a student in a private school in Paranaque. The mercury-spill accident put the dangers of mercury into focus, but sadly affected the boy for life.

Wishing to avoid similar incidents in the future, Ban Toxics campaigns hard to instruct public and private schools on the proper handling, phase-out and safe storage of mercury and mercury-containing products.

The NGO also published a manual on Mercury-Free Schools for primary and secondary levels to assist school administrators and teachers. The 46-page manual contains vital information, such as alternatives to mercury and mercury-containing products, including tips on how to effectively communicate with children of school ages from 7 to 16.

SDS Balane said, “We are optimistic that knowledge gained today by our public school teachers will be echoed to their students. In turn, children will make use of this information and the next generation will be better prepared to go toxics-free. ” []

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