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Govt set to check unbridled use of mercury

By Noor Aftab
September 21, 2016

ISLAMABAD: The government is all set to check free-wheeling use of mercury in different sectors especially health and economic as it has been considered one of the major factors for various fatal diseases like nervous system disorders, kidney and lungs problems, defective reproductive system and cardiovascular defects.

The efforts to check use of mercury would mainly focus on a 2-year project titled “Development of Minamata Initial Assessment in Asia”, involving Pakistan, Cambodia, and Philippines to limit human and environmental exposure to mercury by reducing and eliminating mercury emissions and releases. UN Environment Programme (UNEP) would provide funds for this project under an agreement recently signed by the Pakistani authorities.

The project proposes 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 absence of a viable mechanism in Pakistan is 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 and batteries.

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 has broad uses in everyday objects and is released to the atmosphere, soil and water from a variety of sources.

Spokesman of Climate Change Ministry Mohammad Saleem told The News that the project would also aim to develop and demonstrate new tools and economic approaches for managing harmful chemicals and waste in a sound manner, reduce or eliminate human-caused emissions and releases of mercury to the environment.

Talking to The News, Joint Secretary of Climate Change Ministry Syed Iftikhar-ul-Hasan Gilani said the ministry is working on strengthening the baselines on mercury management, development of national mercury inventories and piloting of sectoral action plans including indicative sampling and development of national mercury management plans.

He identified mining, hospital and industrial equipment, paints and fish species as major sources of mercury in the country, which is considered one of the key causes of nervous system disorders, kidney and lungs problems, defective reproductive system and cardiovascular defects. 

“Long-term exposure to the mercury vapours causes anxiety, loss of appetite, tremors, excessive shyness, irritability, changes in vision, fatigue, hearing and sleeping problems, headache, chest pain, coughing, sore throat and memory loss,” he said.

Project Coordinator for UNEP-funded mercury-free Pakistan programme and Deputy Director (Chemical) at the Climate Change Ministry, Dr. Zaigham Abbas told The News that there was an urgent need to hammer out a policy mechanism that could help prevent unbridled use of the mercury that was also polluting rivers and aquaculture.