NAIROBI, Dec. 4 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations on Monday decried the rising use of mercury in artisanal gold mining.
Ligia Noronha, director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE), told a media briefing in Nairobi that mercury is a metal that has documented negative health effects on the small-scale miners.
"In order to address the rising use of mercury amongst artisanal gold miners, we are working with other partners to phase out the use of mercury so as to protect human health," Noronha said during the Third Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA).
Noronha said rising demand for gold has increased the use of mercury and this poses a threat to miners. She noted that women are disproportionately affected by the heavy metal.
At the same time, the UN environmental body called for data on the use and environmental impact of mercury in order for governments to make more informed policies.
Mercury is a popular chemical among small-scale gold miners because it is effective in the separation of gold particles from the sand.
The impact of mercury on human health is huge as those who have prolonged contact with the pollutant lose their cognitive abilities while women can give birth to defective babies.
In order to eliminate the threat posed by mercury, the global community signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury in order to protect humans from the adverse effects of mercury.
Noronha said the UN is collaborating with other organizations to look for alternative processes that small-scale miners can use to extract gold.
She noted that there is need to strike a balance between reducing use of mercury and protecting jobs.