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Hundreds of kilos of toxic mercury is released into the air every year

- CHANDAN KUMAR MANDAL, Kathmandu

Jan 11, 2019-

The first ever inventory prepared to estimate the country’s total mercury emissions has recorded that hundreds of kilograms of harmful mercury are released into the air every year.

An estimated 6,790 kgs of mercury was released into the air in the last fiscal year (2016-2017), according to the government report that was recently released. According to the report, which was prepared after assessing the mercury usage data available for 2016-17, waste incineration and open burning released 998 kgs of mercury in the air, and solid waste accumulation contributed 931 kgs in the same period. The use and disposal of mercury-added products contributed 2,476 kgs (the highest amount) to the total mercury release. The highly toxic metal mercury and mercury compounds, used in various products and processes, can have adverse effects on human health and the overall environment.

The latest findings in the government report is backed up by multiple previous small scale reports that show the country is unsafe from possible mercury menace. Bipin Rajbhandari, senior divisional engineer at Environmental Standard and Monitoring Section under Ministry of Forest and Environment, told the Post, the initial inventory showed that mercury was released from a range of sources and activities.

The environment ministry officials said the inventory for Nepal was prepared following the ‘toolkit for identification and quantification of mercury releases’ as prescribed by the Chemicals and Waste Branch of the United Nations Environment Programme.

The country’s total mercury release would have drastically gone up, if the gold plating sector would have been included as part of the same list while preparing the mercury datasheet for the country. The gold plating sector, with an estimated 12,825 kgs of mercury release every year, is a major source of mercury emission in the country.

“Gold plating is not considered as the potential source of mercury emission by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization as gold plating is not in practice in other parts of the world. This is why we enlisted gold plating under the miscellaneous category,” Rajbhandari added.

The presence of mercury is dangerous for human life. And various studies conducted by the Center for Public Health and Environmental Development (CEPHED) have proven the presence of mercury in human body and environment in Nepal. A study conducted by CEPHED in 2012-13 showed the presence of mercury in the fish in Phewa Lake. Similarly, another CEPHED study has shown that people from fishing communities are extremely at risk from exposure to mercury. Likewise, workers engaged in metal plating business are also very vulnerable.

Not only people from fishing communities and gold plating business groups, but even dentists and nurses are at the risk of mercury exposure when they do dental filling with mercury amalgam, according to Ram Charitra Sah, environmental scientists and executive director with the CEPHED, who has been lobbying that Nepal should immediately ratify the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

The report has also measured the use of mercury in both health and education sectors in Nepal. As per the inventory, nearly 114 kgs of mercury was used by dentists in the country and an additional 28.5 kgs of mercury released from dental colleges during academic exercises.

Nepal has signed the convention on October 10, 2013, in Japan. The convention, which came into force from August 16, 2017, has been ratified by total 101 countries of its total 128 signatories, but Nepal is yet to ratify it.

“The latest finding provides the Nepal government a complete basis for the ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury which is very much needed for Nepal to access required technical and financial resources to deal with the mercury problem,” Sah told the Post, adding, the country also needs dedicated action plans to keep the public safe from a mercury hazard. 

Environment ministry official Rajbhandari, who is also the focal point for the convention for the Nepal government, said the government would soon move towards ratifying the convention and enforcing measures to protect the public from the devastating impacts of mercury exposure. “Now that we have a strong technical backing with this report to ratify the convention, we can minimise unchecked consumption of mercury,” he said.  

Estimated mercury release

Mercury Release Source    Estimated Release Per Year

Gold plating     12,825 kgs of mercury

Use and disposal of products with mercury content      2,476 kgs/year

Waste incineration and open dumping     998 kgs/year

Dumping of general waste    931 kgs/year

Energy consumption    904kgs/year

Crematoria and cemeteries     512kgs/year    

Other material production     389kgs/year

Waste water treatment     368kgs/year    

Dental amalgam     114kgs/year

Dental Amalgam used in dental colleges    28.5kgs/year

- Source: Inventory of Mercury Releases in Nepal (2018)

Published: 11-01-2019 09:02

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