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Mercury poisoning

Published Jan 02, 2017 07:04am

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ONE of the most iconic black-and-white photographs of the last century shows a woman cradling her severely disabled daughter in her bath, the minimal light illuminating a hauntingly tender composition. The portrait is from Minamata, the Japanese fishing village where 900 were killed and thousands badly affected — including some in utero — by methylmercury poisoning in 1956. On Thursday, experts at a workshop in Karachi on the Minamata Convention on Mercury, to which Pakistan is a signatory, called for implementing the provisions of the international agreement and creating awareness about the importance of regulating the management and disposal of this toxic chemical element. The workshop was organised by the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency in collaboration with other organisations including the United Nations Environment Programme. It was part of an initial assessment project that aims to develop baselines on mercury management and develop national mercury inventories, in other words the preparatory work to ensure that public health and the environment are protected from mercury poisoning, known as Minamata disease.

As history has shown us, the consequences of such a disaster can be horrific. A neurological disorder, Minamata disease can cause a range of chronic disorders of varying severity, including anxiety, loss of appetite, damage to hearing, speech and vision, loss of coordination of muscle movement, and in extreme cases, paralysis, coma and death. As environmental concerns become prioritised across the world, particularly in the wake of climate change, there are increasing efforts to control the use and emission of mercury. In Pakistan, the major sources of mercury include certain industrial and hospital equipment such as thermometers and manometers, dental fillings, jewellery, skin-whitening creams, electric batteries, paints and various species of fish. In fact, the diversity of sources and their place in our daily lives makes the issue one of grave concern. It is therefore vital that the government and health and environmental experts coordinate on a sustained basis with industry leaders to reduce and, where other alternatives are available, phase out the use of mercury.

Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2017


Comments (2) Closed



Sukhera Jan 02, 2017 10:53pm

I agree with you that mercury in the environment is a big health hazard for the people of Pakistan and no body can escape it. 50% of the Mercury released into the air is from the combustion of coal. This mercury accumulates and concentrates in the food chain, where it is ingested by people (often through eating fish). Mercury is a toxic chemical that can affect the nervous system, immune system, and reproductive system, and is especially damaging to developing fetuses. Environmental consequences of burning coal for power plants is not a high priority for the government at this time in Pakistan. Politicians are either not aware of the effects of coal burning or don't care. We are already seeing the results of pollution where major parts of the country are experiencing heavy fog every day. People in Beijing (China) wear masks daily and can't see in heavy pollution. Its time to call the international experts to weigh in and change our policies before its too late.

Amjad durrani USA Jan 02, 2017 11:33pm

Being coauthor of pakistan's industrial standards back in 1982, it really dismayed that local chapters of EPA's do not make efforts to implent these existing standards. Latest news pertains to existing high level of lead and mercury in chicken meat, which follows the food chain through chicken feed using contaminated water for its preparation, is a glaring example of negligence on part of the Sind EPA. No more can be said. These workshop , though beneficial in creating limited awareness of issues already well known, fail to solve common man's extreme health risks which are increasing day by day. Some quick and ruthless action is required by the concerned authorities to eradicate this menace before it is too late to rectify the situation.