Hazards of mercury poisoning go unnoticed 

August 17, 2015

Large amounts of toxic mercury, appro 58.5MT, were imported in 2014
A group of experts yesterday said mercury poisoning, a major health hazard, remains unnoticed and unheeded in Bangladesh, putting public health in jeopardy. Referring to a study conducted by the Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO) on mercury poisoning, they asked for immediate steps to stop such hazards. Large amounts of toxic mercury, approximately 58.5 metric tonnes, were imported in 2014 and used to produce cosmetics, jewellery, electronics, and measuring devices, reveals a study conducted by ESDO.
The study on mercury poisoning was disclosed at a national Workshop on “Reduction of demand for mercury, in mercury containing products in Bangladesh”, jointly organised by ESDO and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), at the National Press Club.
It says that a huge amount of toxic mercury, approximately 58.5 metric tonnes, was imported in 2014. It was used in producing cosmetics, jewellery, electronics and measuring devices.
It is estimated that the release of mercury from 33 cement factories of Bangladesh is 0.56265 million tonnes. Also, 1.44 million tonnes of mercury are released per year from paper and pulps mills in the country.
The ESDO survey finds that 37.8 per cent of yearly supplied 887,472 thermometers break every year. Similarly, 10 per cent of yearly supplied 305,926 sphygmomanometers break every year.
A standard thermometer contains 0.5g-2.0g of mercury, while standard sphygmomanometers contain 80g-160g of mercury. It is, therefore, estimated that approximately 0.69 tonnes of mercury get released into the environment every year due to breaking of thermometers and 3.3 tonnes of mercury due to breaking of sphygmomanometers.
Based on the same survey, 1.09 million tonnes to 6.22 million tonnes of mercury vapour is released from mercury amalgam fillings per year from the dental sector in Bangladesh. It is estimated that potential mercury emissions from the energy sector (coal, gas, oil refining etc.) is 3058.158 kg.
Besides, CFL production in Bangladesh was 19,688,097.2 units during 2012-2014 and mercury release from CFL light bulbs has been measured as 0.118 million tonnes. Also, mercury release from the jewellery sector is estimated to be 4.1 million tonnes.
Speaking on the occasion as chief guest, Dr Kamal Uddin Ahmed, secretary to the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), said, “Mercury poisoning has become a great concern for the country. We need joint effort of the people of Bangladesh to help raise awareness about mercury poisoning.”
“Only the government, NGOs and media personnel will not be enough to resist people from producing or using products that contain mercury,” he added.
Prof. Ainun Nishat, vice chairman of ESDO, appreciated the initiatives taken by ESDO in Bangladesh. “This report not only reveals the sources of mercury but also highlights its adverse impacts clearly,” he said.
Dr Shahriar Hossain, UNEP mercury specialist and secretary general of ESDO, said, “Public health is at stake because of the wide exposure of mercury in Bangladesh. According to the Minamata Convention, Bangladesh would have to ban mercury by 2020. As a signatory country, Bangladesh will have to lessen mercury emission from thermometers, fluorescent bulbs, electric power plants, and cement industries.”
Siddika Sultana, executive director of ESDO, said, “All countries, including Bangladesh, agreed to control the emission of mercury, a chemical hazardous to health. According to the treaty, production of mercury-containing products as well as their import and export will have to be banned within 2020. We aim to implement this treaty.”
Stakeholders and representatives, including experts, specialists, and officials from the Department of Environment (DoE), Bangladesh Standard Testing Institute (BSTI), Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR), Dhaka University,Jahangirnagar University, Jagannath University, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), State University, Bangladesh Dental Society (BDS), healthcare organisations and head of different associations participated in the workshop.

-With The Independent input

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