New Study Raises Concern over Mercury Pollution from Burning Products

BURN NOT: Chemical safety advocates call attention to mercury pollution from the burning of mercury-added products in waste at a press briefing organized by Ban Toxics, GAIA and the EcoWaste Coalition. The public health and environmental groups are pushing for a globally-binding treaty to stop mercury pollution. (Photo by LJ Pasion)

Feb. 5, 2009. Quezon City, Philippines - 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 Productsreleased 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.

END

CONTACTS:

1.  Michael Bender, Mercury Policy Project, telephone # +01 802-223-9000, e-mail: mercurypolicy(at)aol.com.

2.  Gigie Cruz-Sy, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), telephone #  09178250802, e-mail: gigie(at)no-burn.org.

3.  Richard Gutierrez, Ban Toxics, telephone # 0917 506 7724, e-mail: rgutierrez(at)ban.org.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

    The report “Mercury Rising: Reducing Global Emissions from Burning Mercury-Added Products” is available at <http://www.no-burn.org/article.php?id=631>

Notes:

1. Mercury and its compounds are highly toxic to humans, especially to the developing nervous system. They are also harmful to ecosystems and wildlife populations.

2. Mercury is released by natural sources like volcanoes, by evaporation from soil and water surfaces, as well as through the degradation of minerals and forest fires. Part of today’s emissions from soil and water surfaces, however, is composed of previous deposition of mercury from both man-made and natural sources.

3. Mercury is contained as a trace element in coal. The large use of coal-fired power plants in generating electricity, make mercury emissions to the air from this source among the world’s largest.

4. The main burning processes investigated in the report were medical waste incineration, municipal and hazardous waste incineration, municipal wastewater sludge incineration, and landfill fires and open burning.

For more information about mercury please visit: www.zeromercury.org



[i] This report is authored by the Mercury Policy Project: see www.mercurypolicy.org, and is co-released by the following:

The Zero Mercury Working group is an international coalition of more than 40 public interest non-governmental organizations from around the world formed in 2005 by the European Environmental Bureau and the Mercury Policy Project/Ban Mercury Working Group. The aim of the group is to continually reduce emissions, demand and supply of mercury, from all sources we can control, with the goal of eliminating mercury in the environment at EU level and globally. Please see www.zeromercury.org

Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives / Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance (GAIA) is a worldwide alliance of more than 600 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 80 countries whose ultimate vision is a just, toxic-free world without incineration. GAIA work against incinerators and for safe, sustainable and just alternatives. Further information may be found at www.no-burn.org

Ban Toxics! is an independent non-profit Asian regional environmental non-governmental organization that is focused on empowering local communities on the issue of toxics in order to reform national and regional toxics policy, making it more responsive and respectful to the needs of people and the environment. Ban Toxics! is an active member of Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) and is the Asia-Pacific node of the Basel Action Network. Please see www.bantoxics.multiply.com



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