MAC: Mines and Communities

India Is Dumping Ground for Toxic Mercury

Published by MAC on 2003-11-06

Spain, Britain, Russia, Italy and the US are dumping "recycled" mercury in India, because state regulations render such disposal illegal in their own countries. The toxic trade has increased more than fivefold over the past six years.

India Is Dumping Ground for Toxic Mercury

Planet Ark (Reuters)

November 6, 2003

New Delhi - India, already saddled with high air and water pollution, is fast becoming the world's dumping ground for toxic mercury, a leading environmental group said.

While the developed world is phasing out mercury, Indian imports of recycled mercury and mercury compounds used mainly by the electrical industry have increased almost sixfold in the past seven years, the Center for Science and Environment (CSE).

"We are rapidly becoming the toxic dumping ground of the world's mercury," a CSE statement quoted Director Sunita Narain as saying. "We will become the world's dirt capital."

India, the world's largest recycler, is increasingly being confronted by the health risks of taking global waste - from plastics to computer gear to steel - and the dangerous ways it is recycled, often releasing poisons and heavy metals.

CSE, an environmental lobby group that made headlines recently by sparking a row over pesticides in soft drinks made by Coca-Cola and Pepsi, said India's mercury imports jumped to 1,386 tonnes in 2002/03 from just 257 tonnes in 1996/97.

A CSE official said most of the mercury comes in recycled form from Spain, Britain, Russia, Italy and the United States because India lacks regulations. "We cannot afford to become the world's dump yard for toxic mercury. Remember, mercury is mobile, it moves across continents," CSE said. "It persists, it builds up in organisms and moves up the food chain. Therefore, the use of mercury is putting entire populations at risk."

Activists say large amounts of mercury are already found in Indian groundwater. They say tests have also uncovered lethal pesticides, poisons, antibiotics, heavy metals, feces and adulterations such as iron filings and cow dung in the food and water consumed in the country.

Some government tests have found at least 50 percent of food and drinks on sale is adulterated in one way or another and state and federal officials acknowledge that contamination is a public health crisis.

But laws and, perhaps more importantly, policing remain lax. Campaigners say contaminants can cause cancer, birth defects and fatal illnesses as poor, illiterate farmers use too much pesticide and fertilizer - some even smear DDT, used to kill malaria-carrying mosquitoes, straight onto their livestock.

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