Delhi-based environmental organisation Toxics Link has written to the state environment and health departments, asking them to phase out the use of medical equipment containing mercury.
HT, on November 14, had reported that there are high levels of mercury in the soil and water around biomedical waste facilities near the Deonar dumping ground and Uran in Raigad district.
The study by Amity School of Biotechnology, Amity University, and the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board found that concentration of the toxic metal was above the permissible limit of 0.01mg/kg to 0.3mg/kg.
The analysis of soil samples found mercury content as high as 1.861mg/kg in February, 1.140mg/kg in March and 1.353mg/kg in April. The permissible limit of mercury in water is 0.001mg/l, but was breached during all three months – February (0.098mg/l), March (0.040mg/l) and April (0.115mg/l).
Long-term exposure affects the nervous system, brains, lungs and kidneys.
“Mercury is a global contaminant, with the properties of bioaccumulation and bio-magnification. Owing to its toxic effects, the Minamata Convention — an international legally-binding treaty for the phasing out of mercury around the world — was framed. India is now a signatory to this treaty,” read the letter.
Under the treaty, the date for phasing out medical equipment containing mercury is 2020. The United Nations Environment Protection and World Health Organisation are working with the health ministries of various countries to phase out mercury in healthcare and other sectors.
The union health ministry issued guidelines advising hospitals to phase out the use of mercury-based products. It has plans to manage mercury in hospitals.
“States such as Delhi, Punjab and Manipur have issued orders to phase mercury out of healthcare facilities. The Indian Medical Association has issued its own policy, asking doctors to stop using mercury-based equipment. The Indian Public Health Standards has also included digital thermometers in the equipment list,” stated the letter.
The health impact of mercury contamination first came to the fore in Japan in 1956, when locals from Minamata, Japan, became victims of methyl mercury poisoning after they consumed contaminated fish from water that a chemical plant had discharged the metal into.
Biomedical waste in Mumbai
Mumbai generates approximately 4,762kg biomedical waste daily from healthcare facilities. Of this, the SMS Envoclean treatment facility at Deonar receives about 4,737kg daily. The remaining 25kg is treated at Evergreen Environmental, Uran.