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Issue 6
, 2007
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EU move on banning mercury trade welcomed

Source: Toxics Link, Date: , 2007

Delhi-based Toxics Link has urged the Indian Government to take a cue from the recent move against mercury by the European Union Parliament through a resolution seeking to ban trade of the heavy metal by 2010 and take some strong steps for replacement and phasing out of mercury here.

Commenting on the resolution, Ravi Agarwal, Director Toxics Link, said: “Europe has been the largest exporter of mercury, which figures on the top of the list of deadly contaminants considered serious hazard to health and environment. Therefore this development is nothing short of a watershed and India being the second largest user and importer of the heavy metal, after China, has serious bearing on the country.”

Earlier this year, 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 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. A recent study, by the environmental group has found high concentration of mercury in hospital indoor air, revealing the serious threat it poses to hospital staff and patients alike. The study was done in two hospitals of Delhi.

Earlier, a detailed national study, Mercury: Poison in Neighbourhood released, had shown that mercury, which is a neurotoxin and crosses blood/placental barriers and can cause developmental disorder, is being used by a in various applications and forms ranging from healthcare, school labs, traditional and medicinal usage, It was also observed that mercury is founding its way in municipal waste streams, large cross section of social group in India, ranging from students to waste pickers.

In July last year, State Minister for Environment and Forests Namo Narain Meena replying to question raised in parliament had said that though the government was aware of the health hazards that the neurotoxin liquid metal causes, but “At present there is no proposal to regulate phase out of mercury from the country yet there was no ‘proposal’ to curb its current free import and trade.

The EU resolution has place 2010 as the deadline, a clause that has been criticised by campaigners as according to them each day counts.

In an related development, In a major breakthrough for anti-mercury campaigners across the globe, particularly in Europe, it is now official that mercury-based barometers will be on the list of banned products that contain the deadly neurotoxin. “The saga’s over at last! We’ll soon have legislation banning the use of mercury from most non-electronic measuring devices,” said Elena Lymberidi of EEB's Zero Mercury campaign. “Reason has finally triumphed, and Parliament has come round to including mercury barometers in the ban. This latest move is a major boost in protecting our health,” she added.

Thermometers and all other measuring devices for domestic use will soon be mercury-free. Barometers using the metal will be banned two years later, and by then the Commission will report on the availability of reliable, safer, mercury-free alternative measuring devices, especially blood pressure devices used in hospitals and doctors’ practices.

The European Commission had initially proposed only banning mercury from fever thermometers and other measuring devices for public use, and fever thermometers used professionally. Professional measuring devices, such as blood pressure devices in hospitals, could therefore still be used. “Parliament’s vote is a huge relief to everyone who wants to get rid of mercury,” said Lisette van Vliet of the Health & Environment Alliance. ”This is a good step forward. But it’s a pity that blood pressure devices for professional use which contain mercury haven’t been banned, because safe, precise and reliable alternatives are available. The Commission's impact assessment should have already considered that.”