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Issue 31
, 2011
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Consultative meet on the run up to INC – II on mercury

Source: Toxics Link, Date: , 2011

Mercury and its usage have always been under the scanner from a health perspective. Its presence in the industrial unit is even more dubious with a recent finding of the substance in thermal power plants. To bring out further understanding on the presence of mercury, Toxics Link participated in the consultative meeting organised (reg. INC - II) held at 439, Parayavaran Bhavan on 06 December 2010. The aim was to subsequently develop the road map for mercury management and phase-out. The aim was to subsequently develop a road map for mercury management and its phase-out.

Below are some observations made:

  • There is a need for developing a clear roadmap for dealing with the issue of pr4esence of mercury in thermal power plants. There are technical/ financial issues, which should be put across at the time of international negotiations to safeguard the interests of all stakeholders. It is understood that this will take some time. However, internally it is needed to commit to ourselves and see how quickly one phases-out mercury from the industrial sector. And this needs to be understood clearly by all the stakeholders, especially the decision makers.
  • The quality of coal varies in India. Though the sulphur content (as was suggested in the meeting) in Indian coal is less, the ash content of Indian coal is quite high as compared to coals in China or US (3 to 6 times - Toxics Link research findings). Even the Kcal/kg value is about half in the same comparison. This means that coal consumption would continue to increase for our energy requirements vis-à-vis more mercury emissions— which need to be controlled – especially when reviewed from health perspective.

a. Opportunity - Coal based power generation would dominate even 20-30 years from now (until tech breakthrough). However, it is found that there is an opportunity here for us to develop technology to arresting mercury emission.

For information – India imports mercury from EU (55%), US (10%) and 35% from countries like Spain, Algiers, Khyrgystan, Russia and China that have major mercury mines.

Indian coal has about 0.11 to 0.80 microgram of mercury per gram of coal. Depending upon the quantum and type of coal in our thermal Power Plants, India is emitting 60 tones of mercury every year (Toxics Link research findings).

Information on uses – India consumes roughly 25 tones of mercury in Chlor-alkali plants, 20 tones as elemental in mercury-based instruments, and about 45-50 tones in electrical equipment (will further increase). However, there is no data on mercury use in pesticide and other formulations.

  • Free trade of mercury is quite prevalent in India, where the metal is sold/ used openly in quite unabated and unhealthy manner. This should be regulated through trade regulations and inventory gaps. 
  • Indian consumption of mercury for electrical appliances may be lower as compared to other countries (as suggested in Holland) but due to the lack of life cycle approach, this mercury is surely becoming part of our immediate environment and landfills.
  • While it is good to see that MoEF/CPCB thinks of regulating the mercury use in CFL to 5mg per tube, it should be seen that this is a progressive policy to pressurize manufacturers for constant upgrading (3mg or less).
  • Since alternate technology (such as digital thermometers and sphygmomanometer) have proved to be success in the healthcare sector, there is a need to emulate the same in the whole country, since roughly 25 tones of mercury consumption/ emission can be phased out immediately if this alternate measures are adopted in the healthcare sector. Looking at it from a cost-effective perspective is the only bit, which needs to be careful worked out.  
  • Opportunity – There is a need to develop and implement with clarity the storage and disposal mechanisms.
  • Way forward

a. Internationally, there is a need to negotiate for phase-out but setting strict internal standards and roadmap is necessary

b. Funds and resources need to be mobilized with a possibility of systems for technology transfer

c. Inventory and Impact mapping should be emphasised

d. Mercury trade and its uses should be regulated

e. There should be stricter anti dumping laws and enforcement

f. The roadmap for alternatives should be prepared

g. Emission reduction and exposures should be looked at through best practices

h. Storage of surplus mercury – should be seen as opportunity in this region

i. Coal based Thermal Power Plants – should be seen as an opportunity for technology development and transfer