FG commences campaign on Minamata Convention on Mercury

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Maureen Ihua-Maduenyi

The Federal Government has commenced an awareness campaign on the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which was negotiated by the global community between 2010 and 2013 to protect human health and the environment from the emissions and releases of mercury and its compounds.

The convention was adopted and opened for signature on October 10, 2013 at a diplomatic conference in Kumamoto, Japan, and Nigeria is currently working towards its ratification and implementation.

The government, through the Federal Ministry of the Environment, started the campaign recently noting that the country was blessed with bountiful solid mineral resources, one of which was gold, and that mining of this precious global commodity was mostly conducted by artisanal and small-scale gold miners, using rudimentary techniques involving mercury.

According to the ministry, the country is also a major importer of mercury-containing products such as medical devices, fluorescent lamps and other electrical products with a huge deposit of coal with potential for use to meet the current energy challenge, hence the need for the awareness, ratification and implementation of the convention in the country.

The Director of Pollution Control and Environmental Health Department, Federal Ministry of Environment, Mr. Charles Ikeah, said Nigeria signed the convention in October 2013 but had yet to ratify it.

“The convention will enter into force once 50 countries have ratified it. The convention aims to promote the use of alternatives, best available techniques and best environmental practices across a wide range of products, processes and industries where mercury is used, released and emitted,” he said.

Ikeah, who was represented at a recent workshop for journalists and non-governmental organisations in Lagos by Dr. Idris Goji of the ministry, said that so far, 128 countries had signed the convention and 38 had ratified it, including 16 African countries.

The convention, among other things, aims to phase-out by 2020 the manufacture, import and export of mercury-added products and take measures to prevent its inclusion in assembled products as well as discourage the manufacture and distribution in commerce of new mercury-added products, unless an assessment of the risks and benefits of the product demonstrates environmental or human health benefits.

Exemptions are, however, expected to be made for products essential for civil protection and military uses; products for research, calibration of instrument or for use as reference standard where no feasible mercury-free alternative for replacement is available; products used in traditional or religious practices; and vaccines containing thimerosal as preservatives.

According to Ikeah, once Nigeria ratifies the convention, it will become a party, and parties are encouraged to cooperate with each other and with relevant intergovernmental organisations to develop and maintain global, regional and national capacity for the management of mercury wastes in an environmentally sound manner.

He said mercury was naturally occurring but highly toxic to human health and the environment, and that human activities in recent times had increased its level in the environment.

Ikeah added, “Human exposure to this increased concentration causes kidney, heart and respiratory problems, tremors, skin rashes, vision or hearing problems, headaches, weakness, memory problems and emotional changes.

“Mercury poisoning and its effects in the environment have over the years been recognised to be of global concern as a result of its nature and behaviour in the environment, including its abilities for long-range transport in the atmosphere, persistence in the environment, and more importantly, its ability to bio-accumulate in the ecosystem, leading to significant adverse effects on both human health and the environment.”

According to him, mercury pollution occur majorly through artisanal small-scale gold mining; cement production; use and disposal of mercury containing products; coal combustion and improper waste disposal.

The campaign to contain mercury pollution in Nigeria is supported by the Global Environmental Facility, United Nations Industrial Development Organisation and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, which provide financial and technical support for the implementation of the Minamata Convention Initial Assessment project.

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