Health Hazard to Local gold Panners in Northern Pakistan

An inauguration ceremony of a one day workshop on “Towards better understanding of gold mineralization of northern areas of Pakistan” was held in the Auditorium of Pakistan Academy of Sciences, Islamabad on December 18, 2013. The Chairman HEC, Engr. Syed Imtiaz Hussain Gillani, was the Chief Guest at the occasion. This workshop was organized by the National Center of Excellence in Geology, University of Peshawar in collaboration with University of Houston, USA under the auspices of the HEC, Islamabad and the US Department of State. Over hundred participants from various universities and R & D organizations of the country attended the workshop.  The HEC Chairman (the chief guest of the event) in his address emphasized the need of using advanced level and new techniques in the exploration of mineral deposits within the country and also the utilization of these resources for the economic development of Pakistan.The representative of the US Embassy, the nominee of the VC, University of Peshawar and the Chief organizers, Prof. Dr. M. Tahir Shah and Dr. Shuhab Khanalso spoke about the importance and significance of the workshop.

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Large deposits of gold exist beneath remote mountains of northern Pakistan, and geologists from University of Peshawar and University of Houston are using cutting-edge remote sensing technology and geochemical analyses to find it.Prof. Dr. M. Tahir Shah and Dr. Shahab Khan, are working on a project under Pakistan US Science and Technology cooperation to aid in the exploration of an area along the Indus River, an area that remains under scientific scrutiny as far as gold exploration is concerned.Some in the region live meagerly by panning for gold, but no serious exploration or mining has been attempted. This one day international workshop shared findings of the three year-longresearch project with the stack holders, professionals and policy makers.

Satellite and GIS data was used to search for rock alteration zones and mapped specific target zones to trace gold deposits. Rock samples were also collected and analyzed to determine if they contain trace amounts of gold.The project also trained several Pakistani scientists in remote sensing image processing and trace element geochemistry, some of them also visited United States of America to conduct research and acquire training.This project recommends training of gold panners on safer, more efficient methods of panning.

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The panners currently use primitive tools for gold extraction like using mercury in the panning process which is causing pollution in the river and groundwater. Dr Sardar Khan, Associate Professor, University of Peshawar, pointed out the health problems the local community is facing in the area, and recommended that immediate action on the part of the policy makers is required. Dr Shuhab Khan in one of his talks expressed concerns over high levels of mercury in river water and its accumulation in the sediments.

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