No silver lining

No silver lining an internationally binding treaty could save millions from dying of mercury pollution exposure. This was the track recently taken by Global Mercury Assessment Working Group of the United Nations Environment Programme (unep). Among other things, the group has urged unep member nations to strengthen cooperation on information sharing, risk assessment and related activities. Increased research, monitoring and data collection on the health and environmental hazards posed by mercury are the other suggestions. “These recommendations are the first step to reduce, and one day eliminate, the environmental and health risks of mercury,” said unep executive director Klaus Toepfer. Based on the group’s advice, unep’s governing council may in future take decisions that will set the course for future action.

It is well established today that exposure to mercury causes permanent damage to the human brain, nervous system and kidneys. Industrial activities have boosted atmospheric concentration of mercury to some three times above pre-industrial levels. The chlor-alkali industry, which manufactures caustic soda using the mercury cell process, is one of the largest sources of mercury waste and emissions. Humans are exposed to these mainly through diet, primarily fish. High levels of mercury in fish have been detected in many regions of the world, including the Artic. This is so because mercury is a trans-boundary pollutant

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