High levels of mercury found in Kaituma River, Guyana; testing to begin at other sites soon

GWI officials at Kaituma river. Image: GWI via Stabroek News
Fisheries

The Kaituma River was the principal source of potable water for residents of the Port Kaituma community, up until water testing revealed high levels of mercury contamination:

Though surface water is the main source of water supply for the residents of Port Kaituma, Region One, the Guyana Water Incorporated has committed to making alternative sources available, after a high mercury content was found in the Kaituma River. 

According to a media release from the Guyana Water Inc (GWI), this assurance was given in the wake of test results in May which revealed mercury levels higher than the concentration acceptable to the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Kaituma River, thus making it unsafe for use. GWI has since ceased pumping the water to residents. Monday’s press release was for the first known mention of the testing of the Kaituma River and the discovery of high mercury levels.

GWI’s Managing Director, Dr. Richard Van West-Charles and a team of officials met with the Matarkai Neighbourhood Democratic Council in Port Kaituma, last Saturday, to discuss with them, the company’s challenges and plans.

The GWI has since announced that it will begin testing the water in other rivers which are used for water supply and are close to mining communities. From the Stabroek News:

The Guyana Water Inc. (GWI) will soon begin testing the mercury content of rivers which are the main source of water supply for mining communities, after sections of the Kaituma River revealed high levels of mercury content.

When questioned at GWI’s mid-year review press conference last week Friday, on whether the company will be testing other communities, where mining activities are conducted within their vicinities, Managing Director of GWI, Dr Richard Van West-Charles answered in the affirmative.

“…Especially where we are using the [river] water as a source. But also, I think it is important, among the agencies, especially where populations are existing along the rivers,” he said, while noting that they will also be looking as to how they manage the watersheds around the country.

“We have to have a programme to look at watersheds generally across the country to ensure that the water is safe…and as a people we have to desist from throwing all sorts of things into our waterways and we have to dispose of things in a proper manner to protect our population,” he added.

Van West-Charles restated that GWI has done some analysis of samples taken from the [Kaituma] river and the results have shown levels of 0.016mg/L, which is higher than the accepted World Health Organisation (WHO) standard of 0.006mg/L.  He explained that they are currently taking samples from other areas, both upstream and downstream in Port Kaituma, and will also be testing the fish to ascertain the levels of mercury in the river.

At the Latin America and Caribbean Congress for Conservation Biology, held last month in Trinidad, Guyanese researcher Ravindra Mohandeo raised concerns about the impacts of gold mining on riverine fish stocks, and subsequently on human health:

In … Guyana, a significant portion of the population depends on mining as its main source of income, even as the fish the community depends on for food is being depleted or contaminated with mercury.

Ravindra Mohandeo, a graduate of the University of Guyana, shared this information following a presentation at the LACCCB on the impact of mining on fish diversity and community structure in Guyana’s Mazaruni district. Mohandeo told SeafoodSource that he chose to research the topic for his undergraduate thesis “because of the detrimental effects experienced from the mining operations conducted. The fish species diversity has been depleted significantly over the last decade, so it is of great concern to monitor and restore the environment and its biodiversity.”

“The residents in this area of study do not rely primarily on fishing as a source of income, since the majority of the local population depend on mining as the source of income generation. However, they do depend on food fishes to satisfy their diet,” he said.

[Image: Guyana Water Inc. via Stabroek News]

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