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HindustanTimes Sat,20 Sep 2014

India to be mercury-free within 10 years

Chetan Chauhan , Hindustan Times  New Delhi, August 29, 2014
First Published: 02:14 IST(29/8/2014) | Last Updated: 09:18 IST(29/8/2014)

Mercury — considered highly toxic but used extensively in healthcare products, lighting and for religious purposes — will be phased out in India in the next six to 10 years.
 
In its first major pro-environment move, the government has decided to sign the Minamata Convention, a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury.
 
Environment minister Prakash Javadekar told HT a formal announcement would be made at an event organised by UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon in September in New York, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is participating in the UNGA.
 
“The decision shows our commitment to grow in a clean way without jeopardising growth,” the minister said.
 
Mercury, also known as quick silver, has some 3,000 industrial applications in India and can be found in thermometers and other healthcare products, paints, cosmetics, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), electrical switches and fertilisers.
 
The country produces 10-15 million clinical instruments every year on average, including clinical and lab thermometers as well as blood pressure monitors.
 
Mercury is used in traditional ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, though mercury poisoning can result in impaired neurological development in infants and children, according to the US Environment Protection Agency.

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The chemical is also used in the construction of shivlings. “Our studies show that ayurvedic medicines and the milk poured over these shivlings, which is then consumed by devotees, are very toxic,” said Ravi Aggarwal of Toxic Link, a Delhi-based advocacy group.

Its studies had a few years ago pushed the Delhi and central governments to announce its intent of making hospitals mercury-free. “For the majority of states, though, it is still a long way to go,” Aggarwal said, while welcoming the government’s decision to sign the treaty.

The Minamata Convention — named after the site of an industrial disaster in Japan in the 1950s, where mercury poured into a river poisoned thousands — calls for reducing mercury emissions from coal-fired thermal power plants, the source of 65% of India’s power generation. It also seeks to reduce mercury content in CFLs to 5 milligrams from the present 15.

When India signs the treaty, which provides financial incentives to the developing world to phase out mercury, it will join a club of over 100 countries to do so.

Besides the environmental benefits, the government — accused of going easy on green norms — expects this move to resurrect its image as one that strikes a balance between growth and environment.


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