Experts pledge to work jointly for tackling sources of mercury toxicity

ISLAMABAD:Environmental experts, industrialists and policymakers consensually said that controlling sources of mercury pollution or emissions and enhanced public education on its grave impacts can effectively help minimize the toxic chemical’s exposure to human health and environment.

“Making Pakistan mercury free” is not possible without tackling the sources of the toxic mercury and it will require stringent policy, legal and public advocacy and awareness measures,” stressed Hammad Shamimi, joint secretary (international cooperation) at the Ministry of Climate Change.

Addressing as a chief guest, at concluding session of three-days the national mercury toxicity assessment workshop, Shamimi, however, assured of the strong commitment of his climate change ministry to work with country’s environmental, health, education, industrial sector and educational institutions to eliminate the sources of mercury contamination.

The event was organized by the Ministry of Climate Change in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Global Environment Facility (GEF) here on Friday at a hotel under its project ‘Development of Miniamata Initial Assessment in Pakistan’.

Adopted in October 2013 in Kumamoto, Japan and ratified by 98 countries including Pakistan,

the Minamata Convention comprises various mercury-control actions for it signatory countries, such as 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.

Programme Officer at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Dr. Shunichi Honda said that mercury is a global pollutant and now there are more legitimate calls within these countries and from external stakeholders to manage it effectively to protect human health and environment from its debilitating effects.

Appreciating the seriousness of Pakistan and efforts of the climate change ministry, Dr. Honda

of the UNEP said that it is heartening to see Pakistan taking all-out measures in collaboration with relevant government and non-governmental departments, industry and academia to make Pakistan mercury-free.

“Almost being ready with completion of the draft report on initial assessment of mercury in Pakistan and preparation of mercury inventory, reports about causes, sources and impacts of mercury in the country are clear signs of the country’s seriousness towards completely phasing out mercury use at any level in the country by 2020.

Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Climate Change, Mureed Rahimoon, spoke on the aims and objectives of the project and UNEP’s Minamata Convention on Mercury.

He said that the project 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.”

Assess the causes, sources and impacts of mercury and prepare the pave for Pakistan to permanently eliminate use of mercury at all level, particularly industrial and health sectors, are the

key goals of the project, he added.

Rahimoon told the participants that Pakistan is a signatory to the UNEP’s Minamata Convention

on Mercury, including 128 countries, which is a global treaty to protect human health and the

environment from the adverse effects of mercury.

National Coordinator for the Mercury Initial Assessment Project, Ministry of Climate Change Dr.Zaigham Abbas spoke on the objectives of the project.

He said that national assessment on existing sources of information (studies), compile and make them available, national awareness raising and outreach and awareness-raising strategy development, identification of stakeholders, development a qualitative and quantitative inventory of all mercury sources and releases and a national strategy to identify and assess mercury contaminated sites are among key objectives of the project.

Mercury poisoning refers to a toxicity from mercury consumption. Mercury is a type of toxic metal that comes in different forms within the environment. The most common cause of mercury poisoning is from consuming too much methylmercury, which is linked to eating seafood.

Environmental scientist at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Dr. Mahmood A. Khwaja, said that his organisation’s research conducted in collaboration with the Ministry of Climate Change found high levels of mercury presence at hospitals in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, which pose

a serious risk to the lives of patients and other visiting people and surrounding environment.

Assistant Professor, Department of Community Health Sciences, Aga Khan University, Dr.Asad Afridi, said Neurologically, it can take you into depression, or it can take you into anxiety, result in tremors in your body. It can make you hyperactive, or it can give you chronic fatigue.”

“More often, mercury poisoning builds up over time. However, a sudden onset of any of these symptoms could be a sign of acute toxicity,” he said.