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Philippines moves closer to total ban on mercury
Publication Date : 10-10-2013
The Philippines has moved a step closer toward issuing a total ban on mercury as Environment Secretary Ramon Paje signs Thursday the historic Minamata Convention at a United Nations conference in Japan.
“I was given full authority by President (Benigno) Aquino (III) to sign the convention in behalf of the Philippine government” at the United Nations Conference on Mercury, Paje said in a phone interview late Tuesday.
The Minamata Convention, named after the city in Japan where serious health damage occurred as a result of mercury pollution in 1956, is the world’s first global, legally binding treaty to prevent emissions and releases of the notorious heavy metal, with the goal of eventual phaseout by 2020.
The treaty, which has been four years in negotiation, will be open for signature at the five-day conference in Kumamoto Prefecture near the site of Japan’s worst industrial pollution.
About 130 countries and regions are expected to adopt the Minamata Convention on Mercury, named in honour of the Japanese city where around 2,000 people died and many more were made sick by mercury dumped by a local factory.
The treaty will take effect once ratified by 50 countries, something organisers expect will take three to four years.
“Mercury is highly toxic as it damages the brain, kidneys, lungs, heart and the gastrointestinal tract. The brain may be severely damaged as it may cause tremors, numbness, weakness, motor incoordination and convulsion,” Paje said.
Paje said the Philippines was actually instrumental in drawing up the Minamata Convention.
The director of the Environmental Management Bureau, Juan Miguel Cuna, assisted by hazardous waste expert Gerry Sanez, serves as cochair of the Partnership Advisory Group under the United Nations Environment programme (Unep) Global Mercury Partnership.
According to Paje, the Unep commended the Philippines for its mercury programmes that were presented during the conference, specifically the Department of Environment and Natural Resources ban on the use of mercury in mineral processing, particularly in small-scale mining.
The ban was in line with Executive Order No. 79 issued by President Aquino on July 6, 2012, more than a year ahead of the convention, Paje said.
The Department of Health is targeting a mercury-free status among healthcare facilities in the Philippines by the end of 2016.
“The Philippines should learn from the Minamata incident and be more strict in regulating toxic substances and hazardous wastes,” Paje said.