Pushing for a Mercury-Free Future: Story of a Filipino migrant worker

Debbie, a former Filipino migrant worker, a miner, and a single parent of three has been through many challenges, including how to make ends meet.

Coming from a mining family, Debbie was already involved in gold mining at an early age. She helped out with ‘light’ activities such as sluicing and panning. “In my community mining has been the traditional source of income for many families”, says Debbie.

“It was thanks to my father’s hard work in the mine that I managed to go to college and get an education.”

Like many Filipinos, Debbie worked as a migrant worker for three years to earn an income. Upon her return, she got back to small-scale gold mining as it was the most dependable source of income.

Mining, however, is traditionally considered a male-dominated industry, and while women are involved, their contribution is not considered as important as their male counterparts and female miners are often subject to discrimination.

“In this industry, women are engaged in panning, sluicing, and smelting and other tasks related to processing, while men go into the tunnels and do the heavy-lifting. Thus, we don’t earn as much as men”, says Debbie.

Through training provided by BAN Toxics, a non-profit environmental justice group working on chemicals and wastes, Debbie learned the basics of mercury-free gold processing. The training made her realize that mercury is toxic and causes severe impacts on women and children.

Through its work, BAN Toxics improves the plight of rural communities engaged in small-scale mining with particular focus on women and children. Debbie is one of the many women benefitting by BAN Toxics training to operate in a mercury-free and responsible small-scale mining sector.

Armed with training and knowledge, Debbie became a miner-trainer, instructing other women on mercury-free mining methods. As a trainer, she is a respected leader in her community. She is also a member of a women's organization in Benguet Province.

The active participation of women in mining eventually led to the recognition of women’s valuable contribution to the sector.

“Now, we are pushing towards a mercury-free future, not only for the health of the community but for the environment as well!” she exclaims.

Mercury is a global, regional and national challenge and threat to human health and the environment and may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. It is among issues discussed at the Fourth Regional Forum on Environment and Health that took place 6-8 October 2016 in Manila, Philippines.

UN Environment is working with governments and stakeholders to reduce mercury pollution and its negative impacts. It hosts the interim secretariat of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which regulates the use and environmental releases of mercury from artisanal mining, coal combustion, and mercury-added products. The UN Environment  Global Mercury Partnership works with governments, non-governmental organizations, industry groups, and researchers to take immediate action to reduce mercury pollution.

For more information:
Ms. Satwant  Kaur,  Regional  Information  Officer, UN Environment Asia Pacific, + 6622882127/ +66 817001376, satwant.kaur@unep.org

Lean Lava, Communications Officer, BanToxics, +632 9175620994/7918691, lean.lava@bantoxics.org


The Regional Forum on Environment and Health in Southeast and East Asian Countries is an initiative of 14 countries (ASEAN + 4) to strengthen cooperation of environment and health authorities within and among the countries. This year’s meeting, on the theme "Environment and Health at the Centre of Sustainable Development", is jointly organized by UN Environment and World Health Organization Asia Pacific  offices and hosted by the Philippines Government.