Quezon City- A new study released today around the world shows that the burning of mercury-added products contributes upwards of 200 tons of mercury to the atmosphere every year, comprising 10 percent of the mercury that enters the earth’s atmosphere through human activities. The study entitled “Mercury Rising: Reducing Global Emissions from Burning Mercury-Added Products” released by several international non-governmental organizations,i notes that mercury emissions from product wastes have been inadequately understood and seriously underestimated.
The launch of the Report coincides with the 3rd anniversary of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) that over 100 governments, including the Philippines, adopted on 6 February 2006 to foster and achieve chemical safety.
“Based on this report’s findings, we believe it is important to recognize that the burning of products containing mercury is much more significant than previously suspected,” said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project. “Our review shows that burning mercury product wastes contributes at least two times more mercury emissions to the global atmosphere than previously thought.”
Globally, the report shows that the main sources of air emissions from the burning of mercury-added products in waste such as fluorescent light bulbs, mercury thermometers, not including manufacturing wastes, are as follows:
- municipal and hazardous waste incineration (41% of the total air emissions related to burning of mercury-added products)
- landfill fires and open burning of mercury-added products in waste (45% of the total).
- medical waste incineration (11% of the total), and
- municipal wastewater sludge incineration (3% of the total).
Gigie Cruz-Sy of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) explains that “The report underscores the harmful environmental and health impacts posed by incineration or burning. It is time to recognize that combustion of mercury-added products in incinerators, landfill fires and open burning of domestic waste is a significant contributor of mercury and other toxics to both local and global ecosystems.”
The report shows the magnitude of emissions in East and Southeast Asia due to landfill fires and open burning of domestic waste. These observations, the study notes, reflect a combination of significant open burning, especially in rural areas, a large quantity of products containing mercury in the region, and very low recycling rates.
Formal incineration of municipal waste is not common in most countries in Asia, noted the study. The generation of large volumes of waste, the relatively high use and disposal of mercury-added products, and the incineration in Japan of a very high percentage of its waste explain the magnitude of regional atmospheric mercury emissions from incineration.
“We urge countries to take immediate steps to stop incineration as a method of waste disposal, including mercury burning practices, and move expeditiously towards safe, just, sustainable and more environmentally-sound alternatives,” said Atty. Richard Gutierrez of Ban Toxics.
The report recommends that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), at its upcoming February meeting in Nairobi, establishes an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for the purpose of negotiating a free-standing legally binding instrument on mercury.
In the interim period before such an instrument becomes effective, the report recommends UNEP to take the following action:
- Assume responsibility for the awareness-raising, analytical, technical and legal support activities necessary to encourage manufacturers of mercury-added products, and countries where such manufacturers are located, to identify and implement the actions.
- Recognize that combustion of mercury-added products in incinerators, landfill fires and open burning of domestic waste is a significant contributor of mercury and other toxics to both local and global ecosystems, and urge countries to take steps to stop these practices and to move expeditiously towards safe, just, sustainable and more environmentally-sound alternatives.
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