PR No. 67 Legal framework must to fight mercury’s damaging impacts on health, environment: speakers Protecting human health, environment from mercury exposure stressed Speakers at a workshop have called for policy framework and legislation to rid country of mercury exposure, which poses grave risk to the sustainability of the life and environment. Islamabad: September 9, 2016
The health and environment experts, industrialists, medical practitioners and dentists also pledged to join with all relevant stakeholders in government and non-governmental sectors to play their part for clamping down on use of the mercury in any form.
The experts identified mining, different hospital and industrial equipments (thermometers and Manometers), Dental fillings, jewelry making, skin whitening creams/soaps, electric batteries, paints and fish species were major sources of mercury in the country, which was considered one of the key causes of nervous system disorders, kidney, lungs, reproductive system and cardiovascular defects.
“Long-term exposure to the mercury vapors causes anxiety, loss of appetite, tremors, excessive shyness, irritability, changes in vision, fatigue, hearing and sleeping problems, headache, chest pain, coughing and sore throat and memory loss.
Delivering keynote address, Former Director-General of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agenciy – Islamabad, Asif Shuja Khan, said that mercury was not only in people, but also polluting rivers and aquaculture.
He pointed out that absence of a viable mechanism in the country was a major cause of free-wheeling use of the hazardous mercury in different forms including cosmetic products (whitening creams and soaps), dental filling, light bulbs, medical devices (thermometers and blood pressure-related medical apparatus), vaccines, batteries.
“There is urgent need to hammer out a policy mechanism that can help prevent unbridled use of the mercury the country and its handling in a proper scientific manner, which is playing havoc with the health of the people,” Asif Shuja Khan stressed.
The three-day capacity building workshop on ‘Mercury Inventory Using Toolkit of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was organsied by the climate change ministry in technical and financial support with the UNEP and the Washington-based Global Environment Facility (GEF) concluded here on Friday.
Project coordinator for UNEP-funded mercury-free Pakistan programme, Dr. Zaigham Abbas told participants that lack of data on the extent of mercury use and awareness gap on its health and environmental impacts, absence of environmental-friendly alternative technology, lack of political commitment and funding are major roadblocks to much-needed efforts required to free the country of mercury use.
He emphasized that raising awareness among masses and industries, launching research on mercury use and its impacts at university level, introduction of incentives and legislation could help control the mercury impacts on the health of the people and environment.
He told the participants that Pakistan is a signatory to the UN’s Minamata Convention on Mercury, which is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury.
Signed in year 2013 by delegates of 140 countries including Pakistan, the global Minamata Convention on Mercury is a United Nations-brokered treaty, which draws attention to a global and ubiquitous metal that, while naturally occurring, has broad uses in everyday objects and is released to the atmosphere, soil and water from a variety of sources. Controlling the human-caused releases of mercury throughout its lifecycle has been a key factor in shaping the obligations under the Convention.
Spelling out major highlights of the Minamata Convention, the UNEP’s Indonesian consultant Mr. Dadan Wardhana Hasanuddin said that it included a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing ones, the phase-out and phase-down of mercury use in a number of products and processes, control measures on emissions to air and on releases to land and water, and the regulation of the informal sector of artisanal and small-scale gold mining. “The Convention also addresses interim storage of mercury and its disposal once it becomes waste, sites contaminated by mercury as well as health issues”, he added.
Meanwhile, Dr. Zaigham Abbas of the climate change ministry apprised the participants, “To meet the Convention’s requirements, the ministry has initiated a project titled ‘Development of Minamata Initial Assessment in Pakistan’, which aims for strengthening the baselines on mercury management in the country, developing national mercury inventories, piloting of sectoral action-plans as a follow-up of prioritization including indicative sampling and hammering out national mercury management plans.”
Dr. Zaigam Abbas of the climate change ministry said that as a part of the ministry’s efforts for cutting down on use of the mercury, the ministry is holding meetings with relevant stakeholders including industries, health practitioners, provincial governments to make effective regulatory framework for efficacious implementation of the he Minamata Convention in Pakistan.
Director-General Climate Change Ministry, Irfan Tariq, pressed on need for nation-wide awareness of the health concerns resulting from exposure to mercury of vulnerable populations, especially women, children, and, through them, future generations and possible measures to control the exposure to the hazardous chemical.
President of the International Sustainable Development Foundation, Dr. Mahmood A. Khawaja urged the government to take measures for preventing the incorporation into assembled products of mercury-added products and its import.
He said, “A national strategy and legislation for the eliminating the use of mercury was inevitable.”
But this would require introduction of economical and environment-friendly alternatives in health sector especially for dental filling, thermometers and other medical apparatus and mining, he highlighted.