Mercury, is described by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as a “global threat to human and environmental health,” with harmful effects including neurological damage in children and digestive system harm in adults.
International effort to address mercury-a notorious heavy metal with significant health and environmental effects-was delivered as a significant boost with governments agreeing to a global, legally-binding treaty to prevent emissions and releases. UN delegates from more than 140 countries agreed one week ago on a set of legally binding measures to curb global mercury pollution. It was the conclusion of a three year process that began with all parties recognizing the significance of the issue at a global level.
The negotiations were preceded by some disturbing revelations. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released The Global Mercury Assessment-2013 four days before the fifth and final session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to prepare the legally binding instrument (INC5) was about to commence. The report showed that that mercury level in the top 100 m of ocean water has doubled in the past 100 years. The Minamata Convention on Mercury-named after a city in Japan where serious health damage occurred as a result of mercury pollution in the mid-20th Century-provides controls and reductions across a range of products, processes and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted.
Key features of the Minamata Convention:
- The convention prohibits primary mining of mercury.
- Use of mercury in coal-fired power plants, small and artisanal gold mines and cement production has to be reduced. Countries with small and artisanal gold mines will have to devise strategies to reduce the use of mercury in gold production in three years.
- The use of mercury in products like batteries, CFLs, soaps, cosmetics and medical appliances like thermometer will be phased out by 2020.
- A range of products, including batteries (excluding button cell batteries) used in implantable medical devices, switches and relays, certain types of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), mercury in cold cathode fluorescent lamps and external electrode fluorescent lamps and soaps and cosmetics will be phased out by 2020.
- The Minamata Convention requires governments to develop national action plans to ban the most harmful forms of mercury use, promote mercury-free mining methods, protect children and women of childbearing age and seek to improve the health of miners.
- The treaty keeps exception for the products like vaccines’ preservatives and products related to religious faith. Dental filling using mercury amalgams are to be phased down gradually.
India is in recent years a major exporter of mercury from all developed countries. Coal is also a big contributor to the mercury pollution. In India amount of mercury in coal varies from region to region. The Central Pollution Control Board analysed 11 coal samples from Singrauli (M.P) and found mercury concentration in coal ranging between 0.09 parts per million (ppm) and 0.487 ppm. In 2011, Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) had found 0.15 ppm mercury in coal at Anpara village in Sonbhadra (U.P). It is estimated that a 1,000 MW thermal power plant is emitting at least 500 kg of mercury every year in Singrauli.
According to overall study. Indian coal contains 0.01-1.1 parts per million of mercury and burning it leads to the release of the element. According to CSE estimates, close to 75 tonnes of mercury is discharged annually due to this process.
Mercury is one of the natural, and perhaps the most harmful, components of coal. During combustion at temperature above 1,100°C, it vaporizes Given the large quantity of coal burned in thermal plants, considerable amount of mercury is released into the atmosphere. Some of it cools down and condenses while passing through the plant’s boiler and air pollution control system and enters the environment through soil and water. It also enters the environment through run-off from coal mines. In humans, mercury can cause several chronic diseases and death.
It is a good move by the International Organizations to phase out of this dangerous element, which is causing a lot of problem for people and environment.
All provisions are good in convention except some week points like:
- The use of dental amalgam, amongst the largest consumer uses of mercury worldwide, is to be phased-down but no date has been set for a phase- out.
- There are no special provisions to stop mercury pollution by Industries.
(Sources: UNEP, Minamata convention report, press releases)