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New Study Raises Concern over Mercury Pollution from Burning Products

Feb. 4, 2009; [Bangkok/Thailand] - 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 Products" released by several international non-governmental organizations, notes that mercury emissions from product wastes have been inadequately understood and seriously underestimated.

"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."


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.

"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," said Penchom Saetang of Campaign for Alternative Industry Network (CAIN), an industrial pollution public organization based in Bangkok.

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 waste disposal, 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).

Similar studies have estimated mercury releases to air from the combustion of wastes and products containing mercury, however, these studies did not look carefully at the substantial emissions contributed by landfill fires and open burning of domestic waste.

"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 Walaiporn Mooksuwan of CAIN.

The report shows the magnitude of emissions in East and Southeast Asia (and South Asia to a lesser extent) 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.

The report recommends that, at the upcoming February meeting in Nairobi, of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), establish 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 to 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.

 

CONTACTS:

1. Michael Bender, Mercury Policy Project, telephone # +01 802-223-9000, e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

2. Penchom Saetang, Campaign for Alternative Industry Network, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

3. Walaiporn Mooksuwan, Campaign for Alternative Industry Network, email: walaiporn mooksuwan" ,

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

The report "Mercury Rising: Reducing Global Emissions from Burning Mercury-Added Products" is available at [PLEASE PUT THE URL OF YOUR WEBSITE WHERE THE REPORT CAN BE ACCESSED]

 

Notes:

 

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

 

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

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