National Environment Management Authority (Nema) has said  in a new report that  Artisanal gold mining and burning of coal to power cement factories are some of the activities that Nema says are responsible for almost 20,000Kgs of mercury that are released in the air, more than 3700Kgs dumped in the country’s wetlands and lakes including Lake Victoria, and 4770Kgs in fields. “The levels are too high. We must sensitise the public about the dangers of mercury use but also get alternatives,” Nema deputy executive director Christine Akello said of the study titled: An inventory of mercury quantities and release estimates. There are many products on the market that contain mercury such as dental amalgam, electrical appliances-switches and fluorescent lamps, laboratory and medical instruments-clinical thermometers and barometers and batteries. Others are antiseptic and antibacterial creams and skin-lightening creams which are rampant on the market. Mr Paul Mafabi, the director of environment in the ministry of Water and Environment, said the culture of disposing off of these mercury -containing products is poor and many Ugandans either burn them in the open or dump them in the environment including water bodies. When these products are burnt, mercury ends up polluting the air and when dumped in water or land, fauna and flora are affected. Through a process of amalgamation (bringing free gold particles into contact with mercury), miners dissolve gold particles into mercury to gather gold including its smallest size. Unfortunately, this separation is done in water and for the case of Namayingo Districts; the report says it is being done in Lake Victoria. Wetlands and rivers in Mubende, Ibanda, Buhweju, Karamoja districts among others are also being polluted by these artesian miners. Due to pollution of lakes and rivers with mercury, fish and other aquatic animals end up ingesting mercury particles and in the end are ingested by humans when they eat fish. Mr Mafabi, said the country’s fish exports risk being banned due to contamination from mercury being propagated by artesian miners. “Fish export ban has ever happened here [in 1990s]. That is why we need to look at development but also consider environment protection,” Mr Mafabi said.

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