About 32,660kg of mercury are released into the environment in Bangladesh per year, research says
Considering the availability of mercury-free alternatives in the market, experts have urged the government to adopt an action plan to phase out mercury-added products.
Given the environmental and health hazards of mercury, the Minamata Convention needs to be ratified immediately to phase out mercury-added products from Bangladesh as a signatory country, they said.
Experts and activists were voicing their views at a stakeholder consultation workshop, organized by Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO), at Women's Voluntary Association (WVA) on Monday.
According to Minamata Convention Initial Assessments (MIAs), 32,660kg of mercury are released into the environment per year in Bangladesh. Mercury added products include electrical and electronic devices, cosmetics dental amalgam, pharmaceuticals and jewellery.
Mercury is highly transmissible through the atmosphere, ocean and food chain. The health impacts of mercury mostly include damage to the nervous system, kidney, lungs and immune system, among many more.
Siddika Sultana, executive director of ESDO, expressed her concern saying: “According to WHO, there is no safe level of mercury in the human body. We urge the government to phase out mercury toxicity in products.”
Besides highlighting the current country situation of mercury-added products, the viability of phasing out the products and the importance of ratifying the Minamata Convention were also discussed at the workshop.
Dr Tanvir Ahmed, associate professor of the Department of Civil Engineering of Buet, said the Minamata Convention on Mercury served as an important initial step in the phasing out of the use of mercury-added products in Bangladesh.
Referring to the Hazardous Waste and Ship-breaking Waste Management Rules 2011, Dr Tanvir Ahmed stated: “The existing legal framework of Bangladesh is sufficient. If we can implement 50% of it, we can achieve the goal of phasing out mercury-added products.”
According to ESDO’s analysis in light of the Minamata Convention, there are gaps that include a proper mercury export and import system, mercury-related waste management and not having any reservation policy.
Besides the Ministry of Environment, Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) would be an important agency to complement legal frameworks, such as monitoring and taking other legal steps.
Keya Khan, additional secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Family Welfare, said: “The process of ratifying has started as the Department of Environment is already working on it.”
“All stakeholders need to work collaboratively as it is not possible for the government to do it alone. Ministries and other stakeholders concerned have to work together in this regard,” she added.
Dr Abul Hashem, former chairman of the Department of Chemistry of Jahangirnagar University, advised adding this topic in the curriculum as in that way the future generation could know of the impact of mercury pollution.
Syed Marghub Murshed, chairperson of ESDO and former secretary in the government of Bangladesh, who has been working on this issue for a long time, said: “There is no alternative but to raise awareness among people. Management strategies, policies and implementation are required to be incorporated into national legislation to ensure compliance with the Minamata Convention.”
The majority of the speakers said campaigns for raising awareness were very integral to phasing out these products from the market besides ensuring a reduction in illegal transboundary trade in mercury-added products.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury, the most recent global agreement on environment and health, was adopted in 2013.
It is named after the bay in Japan where, in the mid-20th century, mercury-tainted industrial wastewater poisoned thousands of people, leading to severe health damage that became known as the “Minamata disease”.
Since it entered into force on August 16, 2017, 135 parties have been working together to control mercury supply and trade, reduce the use, emission and release of mercury, raise public awareness, and build the necessary institutional capacity.