Philippines: Advocates raise alarm on atmospheric mercury emissionsNew study reveals 200 tons of mercury is released yearly from burning products
February 5th, 2009
Environment and health advocates sounded the alarm on the dangers of mercury to coincide with the international release of a study that shows the harmful effects of burning mercury-added products on February 5.
The call was also made in time for the third anniversary of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management, adopted by over 100 governments including the Philippines to foster and achieve chemical safety.
The study, titled "Mercury Rising: Reducing Global Emissions from Burning Mercury-Added Products," reveals that more than 200 tons of mercury are released to the atmosphere every year as a result of burning products that contain the said element.
In a press briefing, Atty. Richard Gutierrez of Ban Toxics said issues on mercury are "inadequately studied," and poorer countries are the ones most affected by its ill effects on human health.
He said the study used a product-based approach, and found out that the mercury released from burning mercury-added products made up 10 percent of annual atmospheric mercury emissions.
10 precent reduction possible
Some of the most commonly-used items with mercury are thermometers, compact fluorescent lamps, dental amalgams, computer screens, and some paints and skin lightening creams.
Citing the presence of mercury-free alternatives to these items, Gutierrez said "a 10 percent reduction in annual mercury emissions is very possible."
The study shows East and Southeast Asia as the top contributors of mercury emissions in 2005, adding close to 35 tons of mercury to the atmosphere through landfill fires and open burning of domestic waste.
Gutierrez added that mercury is capable of global transport through the air, thus one country's burning of mercury can affect other countries whether they burn less mercury or none at all.
Other activities that emit mercury shown in the study include fossil fuel burning, mining, metal refining and production, and other waste handling and disposal emissions.
Effects of mercury
Eng. Anna Rivera, supervising health program officer for the Department of Health (DOH), said exposure to mercury affects almost all organ systems of a person, and can even lower one's IQ.
The DOH, through Administrative Order no. 21 issued last year, is promoting the gradual phase-out of mercury in health care facilities nationwide.
Back in 2006, dozens of students were hospitalized when a mercury spillage occurred in a school in Parañaque City. The United States Environmental Protection Agency later responded to a government call for aid in the clean up.
Rivera said that the country currently has no facilities or technologies to clean up mercury, and medication for mercury exposure can cost up to P250,000 and has to be imported from another country.
Gigie Cruz-Sy of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives stressed the need for clean production, eliminating toxic materials in the manufacture of consumer goods.
She said that producers should be responsible in designing toxic-free products for the safety of consumers and the well-being of the environment.