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Millions of Indians at Risk From Mercury Poisioning

Published by MAC on 2006-06-26

Millions of Indians at Risk From Mercury Poisioning

PlanetArk INDIA

26th June 2006

NEW DELHI - Millions of people are at risk from the unregulated use of mercury in India, which has become the world's biggest consumer after China, an environmental group said on Friday.

Researchers say India is emerging as a hotspot for trade and unregulated internal distribution of the toxic metal, which has been outlawed in many developed nations because of its effects on humans and animals.

Mercury, sometimes called quicksilver, is found mainly mined in Europe. The heavy, silvery-white liquid metal is highly toxic, and exposure can damage the brain, nervous system and developing foetuses.

"We carried out a series of studies looking at various aspects of (the) mercury trade, usage and disposal in India and the findings are seriously worrying," Prashant Pastore of the Delhi-based Toxics Link told Reuters.

"We believe millions are at risk from poisoning and we need to regulate and monitor the use of mercury in India, just as other countries have done."

Mercury, commonly used in thermometers, batteries, fluorescent lamps, industrial chemicals and paints, is mainly exported from Spain, Britain, the United States, Russia, Netherlands and Finland. India imported about 2290 tonnes from 1996 to 2004, according to the study.

Researchers say the metal is a freely traded commodity as India has no controls over its trade or import and there is no monitoring of what amounts of mercury are coming into the country, who uses it and what it is used for.

Once in circulation in industry, hospitals, schools and homes, it is often not used properly or disposed of safely, mainly because there is a general lack of public awareness that the metal is a serious health risk, said researchers.

Mercury from hospital waste and broken fluorescent lamps is often discarded in garbage dumps, where children and rag-pickers use their bare hands to pick through the waste.

While industry is the biggest consumer of mercury, researchers say the metal is used traditionally for rituals and traditional medicines.

"The government needs to first recognise that mercury is toxic and implement strict laws to regulate the trade, usage and disposal of the metal," said Pastore. There was no immediate comment from the environment ministry.


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