I would like to extend a warm welcome to Minister of Environment Kambuaya; Pak Roy, Deputy Minister for Hazardous and Toxic Substances and Waste, and DG Dr. Sukhyar from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources.
The U.S. has a strong commitment to environmental cooperation in Indonesia: 1) $500 million for climate change; 2) biodiversity protection; and 3) robust collaboration between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Ministry of Environment on a number of environmental issues. But today we will discuss one of Indonesia’s most pressing environmental issues – the use of mercury in small scale mining and what can be done about it.
What is mercury used for and why is it a problem? Mercury is used by gold miners to separate the gold from rock and soil in which it is found. The mercury amalgam is then burned. This whole process is highly toxic to the health of the miners and to the environment. The fumes from the burning process pollute the air while the mercury waste migrates into nearby rivers, soil, rice fields and fish ponds.
Mercury is a potent neurotoxin and major public health hazard particularly for women and children. Reducing or eliminating the hundreds of tons of mercury used illegally every year by small scale miners would be a tremendous accomplishment to improving public health and reducing environmental degradation.
The U.S. took a leading role in negotiating the Minimata Convention on Mercury, and was the first country agree to become a party. The Convention calls on parties to control mercury emissions, and reduce or eliminate the use of mercury in products and industrial processes, and address mercury supply and trade. In October 2013, Indonesia signed the Minamata Convention, and we hope Indonesia’s Parliament will soon ratify the convention.
I also want to congratulate the Government of Indonesia for drafting its National Action Plan on mercury and the National Action Plan on artisanal and small scale gold mining.
The US is also pleased to cooperate with the Government of Indonesia to address this threat. The EPA is helping the GOI build capacity to reduce mercury use and release from artisanal gold mining. We have donated a mercury monitor to the MOE. A recent EPA project with an Indonesian NGO assisted miners in reducing mercury use and releases and shared information with communities of the health risks of mercury. The Department of State Mercury Program recently has made funds available to conduct a mercury inventory, a critical step in developing a data base to aid in mercury reduction efforts.
Our hope is that events such as these will raise public awareness about the dangers of mercury use and the need to stop its use to protect human health and Indonesia’s environment.