State intensifies anti-mercury drive
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Minister of State in the Vice President’s Office, Union and Environment, Mr January Makamba

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THE government plans to conduct an inventory of all miners and scrutinise their work environment to control and phase out mercury use. The Minister of State in the Vice President’s Office, Union and Environment, Mr January Makamba, revealed the plan in an interview with the ‘Daily News’ in Dar es Salaam over the weekend.

He also hinted on efforts by his office to ratify an international convention that addresses the adverse effects of mercury. The Minamata Convention wants signatories to the treaty to act in protecting the human health and environment against anthropogenic emissions, mercury releases and compounds.

Mr Makamba said his office was almost done with the draft document before taking it to other decision-making bodies. “It was an uphill task that required serious consultations with many players in the sector but we have completed it.

We are waiting for a date to present it to the cabinet,” said the minister. Tanzania is a signatory to the Convention since October 2013. Talking about the envisaged inventory, the minister said the list would help in identifying miners, their locations and chemicals they use in their mining operations.

“For us to effectively enforce some control measures and phase out the use of hazardous chemicals, we must fully know who is operating where and with which chemicals,” he said.

The minister charged that some miners believe that having Environmental Protection Plan (EPP) document is the only prerequisite for mining operations, snubbing the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report.

“There are chances that some miners operate in remote areas where nogovernment official has ever reached. These are the most dangerous because they are likely to be haphazardly using mercury,” he argued.

The minister’s explanations come hardly three weeks after a newspaper in the United Kingdom, the Guardian, published a report about mercury serious health risks to women of child-bearing age.

According to a study that covered 25 countries, women of child-bearing age from around the world have high level of mercury, a potent neurotoxin which can seriously harm unborn children.

The study findings attribute the effects on women to their preference in fish eating, with concentration of mercury pollution found across the world’s oceans, much of which originating from coal burning.

It was revealed in the study that the most extreme levels of mercury are found in women from sites in Indonesia where mercury is heavily used in small-scale gold mining and fish eating is common. Gold mining leads to mercury pollution and a source of harm to women in Kenya, Paraguay and Myanmar.

Industrial pollution was another source of mercury and the research proved its effects on women in Nepal, Nigeria and Ukraine.

“Millions of women and children in gold mining communities are condemned to a future where mercury impairs the health of adults and damages the brain development of their offspring,” Yuyun Ismawati, an Indonesian woman from Ipen, the coalition of NGOs that produced the scientific report, was quoted by the UK newspaper as saying.

Mr David Evers, executive director at the Biodiver sity Research Institute (BRI), which conducted the scientific tests was quoted by the newspaper as saying: “Mercury contamination is ubiquitous in marine and freshwater systems around the world. This study underscores the importance of global cooperation to address mercury pollution.”

A global agreement to tackle mercury pollution, the Minamata convention, came into force in August this year and its first major meeting was held on September 24 through 29 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The convention will limit the use of mercury in many products from 2020, but does not ban the international trade in the toxic metal, most of which ends up in small-scale gold mining. Primary production of mercury can continue in some countries until 2032, as the convention stands.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency advises pregnant women, those trying to conceive and children not to eat any shark, swordfish or marlin, which have the highest levels of mercury. Scientists say exposure to mercury can affect foetal neurological development and high level of mercury in blood has been linked to lowered fertility, brain and nerve damage as well as heart disease among adults.

In 2001, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) undertook a global assessment of mercury and its compounds. The review entailed gathering information on chemistry and health effects, sources, longrange transport as well as prevention and control technologies relating to mercury.

Through the assessment it was established that there is sufficient evidence of significant adverse global environmental impacts from mercury and its compounds to warrant further action.

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