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The News

Published Date: Jun 7, 2013

Mercury level in clinics, hospitals above permissible level: Survey

Dr
Mahmood A Khwaja, senior advisor, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, has
said that indoor mercury levels at 15 out of 17 dental teaching institutions, 5
out of 7 general hospitals and all 9 out of 9 private dental clinics surveyed
were found to have mercury levels above the safety limit.

Dr
Khwaja was giving details of a recent study conducted by SDPI in collaboration
with European Environmental Bureau and Zero Mercury Working Group with support
of The Sigrid Rausing Trust to assess mercury emission in various cities of
Pakistan to protect environment and human health. The report was launched in
the wake of World Environment Day celebrated the world over on Wednesday.

The
research report reveals extremely higher levels of mercury pollution in air at
some sites exceeding permissible limits of 300 ng/m3. Mercury is a hazardous
substance widely used in dentistry and industry. Early this year, 140 countries
signed Minimata Convention on Mercury in Geneva to reduce mercury use and
control its emissions and releases by the end of 2020.

Dr
Khwaja, however, said that the outdoor air around testing sites showed
lower
level of mercury as compared to inside air of the institutions.
Commenting on
mercury release from industrial units, Dr Khwaja said that one mercury
based ‘chlor-alkali’ unit and some ‘light products’ manufacturing plants
operating in
the country were found to have higher level of mercury than the
permissible
limits. He said that only mercury based ‘chlor- alkali’ plant committed
to
phase out mercury by the end of next year. Light manufacturing companies
are
now resorting to increased imports of light products such as energy
saving
tubes and bulbs from China and other countries. "So our main area of
concern
with regard to mercury pollution now mostly lies in dental hospitals,
cement
plants and the proposed coal-based power plants," he added.

Giving
recommendation, Dr Khwaja suggested that best preventive approach is to reduce
mercury at source and adopt in-house best environmental practices (BEP) such as
improved cross ventilation, use of exhaust fans and proper mercury waste
management. He also recommended the use of “capsulated mercury amalgam” for
dental filling which is the best alternate to traditional practice of manual
mercury amalgam mixing as it would reduce mercury contaminated wastages to more
than 80 per cent. He also strongly recommended developing and implementing
mercury specific policies, legislations and licensing protocols for private
mercury utilising institutions in the country.

Pakistan
Environment Protection Agency (PEPA) Director-General Asif Shuja Khan, who
chaired the session, said that Government of Pakistan is going to sign Minimata
Convention on Mercury this year for protection of environment and human health.
He emphasised on the need to make a complete inventory of mercury sources,
setting up of standards followed by a complete national plan of action for
reducing mercury emissions and releases in the country. The PEPA chief also
encouraged the corporate sector to take lead and play its role for the
protection of environment and human health from the adverse impacts of mercury
exposure.

Commenting
on the proposals for building new coal-based power plants, he said 30 per cent
of world mercury emission is due to coal-based power plants and PEPA is
seriously looking the issue so that environmental safeguards are in place for
our new coal-based power plants.