India's Toxics Link joined a large number of non-governmental organisations to call upon Governments across the globe to place a ban on mercury exports in a bid to check increasing mercury pollution at the 24th United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council meeting being held from 5th to 9th February 2007.
India, which has no regulatory mechanism on mercury import, has emerged in the recent years as one the leading user of mercury thus contributing substantially to its increasing emission. There has been a growing shift of mercury demand towards the developing nations. One of the key demands to be raised at this meeting will be to urge the developed nations to provide new and additional funding towards mercury reduction in developing countries.
Ravi Agarwal, Director Toxics Link, the Delhi-based group that has pioneered research and advocacy on the issue of mercury hazard in India, will be at the meeting to lend a voice to an overwhelming opinion in the anti-mercury international community to call for adding more teeth to their efforts by enacting a globally binding instrument for control of use and supply of mercury.
He said that though the threat posed by mercury is global, as the heavy metal has the ability to travel widely across a number of environmental mediums, its health and environmental hazard locally, ranging from hospitals to schools, in day-to-day setting have been documented. India is also one of the largest importers of this deadly metal.
Two studies, highlighting the wide social group being exposed to this neurotoxin in a regular basis, were released last month. One by Toxics Link detailed presence of mercury in hospital indoor air exposing staff and patients, while the other by Health Care Without Harm, a global coalition of 443 organisations in 52 countries working to protect health by reducing pollution in the healthcare industry, found mercury in hair samples of volunteers, mostly women from 21 countries, including India.
"Governments must now agree on tough and binding rules to reduce mercury contamination," said Elena Lymberidi from the Zero Mercury coalition. "Mercury poisons the brain and threatens all of us and future generations, at both high and low levels. So this Governing Council Decision must have teeth to ensure global action."
In the five years, since UNEP's Global Mercury Assessment report, there has been no significant reduction in mercury use worldwide, according to its new mercury trade report. As mercury use has gone down in industrialised nations, developing countries have become increasingly reliant on this toxic metal. Air pollution experts also report that global mercury releases into the atmosphere have increased over the past 15 years.
"UNEP's Governing Council first identified mercury as a serious global threat over six years ago," said Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project. "It has since supported extensive research that all leads to one conclusion - serious, concerted global action must be taken immediately to reduce the level of mercury in the environment and protect fish as a viable world protein source."
Anti-mercury campaigners believe that the fundamental cause of failure over the past two years has been that governments have only supported voluntary ‘partnership' programmes, instead of backing a meaningful, legally binding agreement, with the necessary financial assistance and explicit reduction goals. Advocates insist that global, binding agreements are the only way to curtail mercury's worldwide reach.
The NGOs recommend curtailing mercury's global reach by:
* Immediately working towards a globally-binding instrument on mercury using the UNEP trade reports' findings
* Reducing global mercury demand by setting a target to reduce it by 70 per cent by 2017, ending mercury use in electronics, button cell batteries, thermometers, and other non-electronic measuring equipment, phasing out the mercury-cell chlor-alkali process, and setting a sector-specific demand reduction goal to halve artisanal and small-scale gold mining by 2017, eliminating mercury use in whole ore processing, and other practicable measures
* Instructing UNEP to develop a global air emissions report for the next GC, to form the basis for setting goals to reduce major sources of airborne mercury emissions
* Reducing mercury supply by halting primary mining, except where mercury is a by-product from other ore processing, and restricting developed nation mercury exports and managing mercury from closing mercury cell chlor-alkali facilities
* Developed nations providing new and additional funding to support these activities in developing nations