India Becoming A Dumping
Ground For Mercury

Independent Online - South Africa

NEW DELHI (Sapa-DPA ) -- India is increasingly becoming a dumping ground for highly toxic mercury as use of the heavy metal is facing tighter restrictions in developed countries, a leading environmental organisation said in a report issued on Thursday.
The group Toxic Link, which seeks to disseminate information about toxic materials in India, said a 70th of a teaspoon of mercury was enough to contaminate a lake of about 12 hectares.
But such a poison remains freely available on the open market in the country, Toxic Link activist Ravi Aggarwal said. He added that India imports about 250 tons of mercury every year and an equal quantity of it gets released in the air, easily entering the food chain, particularly by contaminating water and fish.
Once it gets into the system it is very difficult to get rid of and affects the nervous system, brain and kidneys and can cause mental retardation in children, particularly those below age five, he said.
It was especially dangerous because it is found in common things such as mercury vapour lamps, thermometers, switches and batteries. It is also used in cosmetics such as skin cream, Agarwal said.
Many hospitals and clinics do not take adequate precautions in disposing of dated medical equipment involving mercury and tend to put them in incinerators which release the heavy metal into the atmosphere, the environmentalist said.
The worst culprits were industries manufacturing chlorine products like caustic soda, which emit about 150 tons of mercury in the atmosphere every year, followed by thermal power stations and industries manufacturing medical equipment, he said.
Agarwal said the biggest problem in India is that there is no specific law to check the spread of mercury. There are several laws on medical equipment, electronic goods and pollution in which mercury finds a marginal mention, but he said this is not effective enough.
He said many developed countries were phasing out products with mercury but have failed to completely ban the trading it. As a result the metal is now being dumped in countries like India.
Agarwal cited one instance last year in which 200 tons of mercury was on its way to India from the United States but the consignment was stopped by international nongovernmental organisations in Egypt.
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