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ISLAMABAD: Exposure to mercury from environmental sources, such as contaminated fish, cosmetics and dental fillings pose risks to public health, said Hammad Shamimi, joint secretary, climate change ministry, on Wednesday.

Speaking at a seminar, Mr Shamimi said one way of reducing public exposure to mercury is to increase awareness among the public.

The seminar was organised by the Ministry of Climate Change in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Program and Global Environment Facility under the project titled Development of Minamata: initial assessment in Pakistan.

He also urged the media to join government efforts to increase public awareness to tackle the adverse impacts of mercury. He said researchers, academia, scientists and policy makers also have a major role to play in this regard.

Ministry of Climate Change Deputy Secretary Mureed Rahimoon said the project is aimed at strengthening mercury management in the country, developing national mercury inventories, initiating action plans and preparing national mercury management plans.

He added that the key goal of the project include permanently eliminating the use of mercury at all levels across the country.

He told the seminar that Pakistan is a signatory to UNEPs Minamata Convention on Mercury, which includes 128 countries and which is a treaty for protecting human health and the environment from the adverse affects of mercury.

Discussing the highlights of the Minamata convention, the Mr Rahimoon said: “It includes a ban on new mercury mines, the phasing-out of existing ones, the phasing-out of mercury use in a number of products and processes, control measures on emissions into the air and releases into land and water. The convention also addresses interim storage of mercury and its disposal, contaminates sites and health issues.”

Speakers said mercury in mining, hospital and industrial equipment, dental fillings, jewellery making, skin whitening products, electric batteries, paints and fish are considered one of the key causes of nervous system disorders, kidney, lungs, reproductive and cardiovascular defects.

“Long term exposure to mercury vapours causes anxiety, loss of appetite, tremors, excessive shyness, irritability, changes in vision, fatigue, hearing and sleeping problems, headaches, chest pain, coughing, sore throat and memory loss,” said Dr Mahmood A. Khawaja from the Sustainable Development Policy Institute.

Dr Razia Safdar from the health ministry spoke about the role of her ministry in protecting the public and environment from exposure to mercury and said measures are being taken to eliminate mercury use in the country with the introduction of substitutes.

Project coordinated for the UNEP-funded mercury-free Pakistan program Dr Zaigham Abbas told participants that lack on data on the extent of mercury use and lack of awareness about its impact on health and the environment, the absence of environment-friendly alternative technology and funding constraints are the major hurdles in the way of a mercury-free Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2018