Mercury warning for breastfeeding mothers

19 Feb, 2023 - 00:02 0 Views
Mercury warning for breastfeeding mothers

The Sunday Mail

Emmanuel Kafe

LACTATING mothers who use mercury to process gold risk exposing themselves and their children to lifelong diseases such as brain damage, kidney failure and heart diseases, a recent study has revealed.

According to the study titled “Country Diagnostic Report on Environmental Health Implications of Mercury in Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining in Zimbabwe”, women miners living and working in areas where mercury is used are at great risk.

The research, which was carried out by Dr Dennis Shoko, a local academic, and other researchers from outside Zimbabwe, sought to measure infants’ and mothers’ levels of mercury in urine, hair and breast milk in the gold-rich area of Chakari, Kadoma.

An environmental epidemiological field study involving 120 mothers was done and breast milk samples were analysed from four different groups.

“High levels of mercury were found in breast milk in the Kadoma/Chakari area, which unduly exposes breastfeeding infants. A large number of children of school-going age and women of childbearing age are already intoxicated or with elevated levels of mercury in their bodies,” reads part of the study.

An estimated 1,5 million local artisanal gold miners reportedly use about 50 tonnes of mercury to process gold annually.

Mercury can build up in living organisms like fish and, thus, potentially harm fish-eating mammals like human beings through a process known as “biomagnification”, the study claims.

In an interview with The Sunday Mail, specialist obstetrician Dr Antony Muchabaiwa said: “Mercury can pass from a mother to her baby through the placenta during pregnancy and, in smaller amounts, through breast milk after birth. Exposure to mercury can affect the infant’s brain and nervous system development during pregnancy and after birth.”

The trans-placental exposure, he said, is the most dangerous because the foetal brain is sensitive.

Paediatrician Professor Douglas Chirenji told The Sunday Mail that neurological symptoms in children as a result of exposure to mercury include mental retardation, delayed development, language disorders and seizures.

“In children, acrodynia, a syndrome characterised by red and painful extremities, has been reported to result from chronic mercury exposure,” he said.

In 2020, President Mnangagwa ratified the Minamata Convention banning the use of mercury in mining.

The global treaty is designed to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury.

It was adopted at the fifth session of the Inter-Governmental Committee in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2013.

Twitter: @emmanuel_kafe


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