Fungus-infected manganese mine workers did not wear safety gear

Government’s Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Department on Monday said the Chinese manganese mine workers did not use protective gears while clearing a tunnel laden with the histoplasmosis fungus that claimed two lives and sickened 12 others.

The histoplasmosis fungus is said to be associated with decayed bat droppings.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said no green-light would be given for work to resume until a full assessment of the site has been done.

OSH Consultant, Gwyneth King told a news conference that the workers were not wearing respiratory masks during their prolonged exposure in the tunnels. “Our information to date was that the workers were not wearing personal protective equipment. That is to say they were not wearing respirators so they were exposed to breathing in the fungal infection,” she said.

She declined to say whether the Guyana Manganese Incorporated (GMI) would be punished as a report was being finalised.

The GMI, she said, informed authorities that the protective gear was at a wharf in Guyana awaiting customs clearance, but she did not verify whether that was so.

King said workers performing such duties should have worn personal protective equipment or risked exposing themselves.

One Guyanese was also afflicted by the fungal infection, which if inhaled over a long period, could eventually prove fatal especially in persons with weakened immune systems.

Two other persons were up to Monday in-patients at the Pakero District Hospital. China has since evacuated 10 of its nationals who were in recovery.

Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Shamdeo Persaud said initially the Georgetown Public Hospital had said two Chinese nationals died due to leptospirosis-related complications. However, tests done by the Caribbean Public Health Agency and the United States and China disease control centres confirmed that the cause of the illness was histoplasmosis.