Environmental regulator in Zimbabwe averts secondary deaths from mining and farming activities

– I was taught that cyanide kills, I don’t want to die prematurely hence I have leant to take all the measures to save my life, a mine worker in Sanyati said.

John Cassim

HARARE, ZIMBABWE – In 2015, poachers killed at least 300 elephants after poisoning water points with cyanide in Hwange National Park.

Small game like kudu’s, vultures and many more also died after devouring the elephant carcasses or drinking the same water.

The source of the cyanide could not be established then, although it is known gold miners in Zimbabwe use the dangerous substance, to process their mineral.

According to the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), humans and livestock continue to die today after consuming mining or farming chemicals.

As such a nationwide campaign is underway to raise awareness of the dangers of unsound handling of hazardous chemicals.

“I don’t want to die therefore I make sure I handle these chemicals with care, I also dispose of chemical waste as required.

Each time I report for duty I face death because these chemicals like cyanide, sulphuric acid and caustic soda are very dangerous,” Collen Mugadura, a chemical handler at Imperani Mine in Sanyati district near Kadoma, told journalists during a media tour recently.

Kadoma is a gold mining town located 142 km south west of the capital Harare. 

The media tour courtesy of EMA, Ministry of Health and Child Care and United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), was aimed at conscientizing environmental journalists, on the sound handling of hazardous chemicals from the point of sale, transportation, use in mines and farms and disposal of waste.

– mining process

Imperani Mine is a medium mining entity but being managed with high safety standards.

The mine has portable running water essential after chemical spillages or contact on the skin on any worker.

Chemicals such as nitric acid, hydrochloric acid, sulphuric acid, caustic soda and many more are kept in a store room under lock and key.

The mine has a security fence to guard against livestock entering the premises, on one hand danger warning signs are everywhere as a safety precaution to workers and visitors.

“Only two people have access to the storeroom and that is the mine owner and myself the chemical handler, we have made it very impossible for any other worker to access these chemicals,” Collen said.

Mugadura has worked at the mine for 15 years and has no formal training but has saved his life owing to plenty of experience.

As a gold mine, Imperani uses what is called gold cyanidation, which is a metallurgical process used to extract gold from ore.  

This is a process widely used in Zimbabwean mines while illegal miners still use mercury, another harmful chemical that is deadly when heated and inhaled.

The use of mercury was banned in Zimbabwe although illegal gold miners still prefer the cheaper way compared to cyanidation.

The set up at the Imperani mine minimizes mine accidents related to unsound handling of chemicals by a big margin hence Collen testified that few accidents have occurred during his 15-year tenure.

“As EMA we have surveillance and keenly monitor these mines especially when it comes to sound handling of hazardous chemicals, at this mine they have prioritised safety and this is what we want all miners to do.

Although we have not seen the documentation, we have hammered on the proper recording of the usage of the chemicals on mines to help manage the chemicals better,” Amkela Sidange, EMA spokesperson said.

Of concern was the mine sludge dump where chances of contaminated water can poison underground water that ends up in nearby streams.

“We have made sure the sludge that comes from the ponds is ‘dead’ meaning it has zero or minimal amounts of chemicals.

To prevent that water from flowing down streams we put plastics at the bottom of a dump site and all the water is contained,” Collen explained.

– chemical hazards at a farm

After Imperani Mine, a visit was made to Remaining Ordoff, a farm that boasts of having 43 cattle, 134 goats, nearly 1000 chickens and several crops.

The farms use several chemicals as herbicides and pesticides but like Imperani Mine, they are kept under lock and key with only one person with access to the storeroom.

In a farming set-up sound chemical handling is vital as there are secondary incidents of poisoning that occur.

“We have chickens here and as such we make sure chemicals sprayed in the fields do not affect the bird, even cattle and goats.

When it comes to proper handling of chemicals we have benefited from demonstrations by EMA, what is very dangerous in a farm is the disposal of containers, it is better to recycle instead of burning or throwing in pits,” Claudius Chiguvare said.

“We want to encourage the manufactures to follow up on some of their products especially the post-consumer waste and assist in the disposal, we have already identified one company in Harare who are following up and recycling these containers,” Amkela said.

“We want to come up with a complete cycle from production up to disposal otherwise as EMA we are really assisting and want everyone to play a part,” she added while noting that disposal of chemical waste remains a challenge that has resulted in the death of livestock, humans and cause long term health disasters in Zimbabwe. 

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