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India becoming dumping ground for world mercury: CSE

Our Bureau

New Delhi , Nov. 3

WARNING bells were sounded here on Monday with experts pointing out that toxic mercury imports into India have increased six-fold in the last seven years.

While the rest of the world was phasing out mercury because of public health concerns - India was in fact becoming a dumping ground for the world's mercury, they said while participating in a conference on mercury pollution.

While it is known that mercury is highly toxic, its compound, methyl mercury, is a confirmed neuro-toxicant damaging the developing brain.

It is also geno-toxic as mercury is known to pass through the placental barrier and the blood-brain barrier, putting the unborn at tremendous risk, said officials with the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the Delhi-based non-governmental organisation and organisers of the conference.

The global production of mercury is on the decline and its use in most countries is severely restricted or banned. But the world needs a "market" and India has become a willing buyer of this deadly product, the participants said. Europe, for instance, has decided to phase out all its mercury-based chlor-alkali plants. It has over 13,000-18,000 tonnes of mercury that it will discard on the market.

The US has excess mercury stocks. In the last seven years, Europe has sold over 3,000 tonnes of this toxin to India, CSE claimed.

According to the latest data released by the Directorate-General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics, Kolkata, that CSE presented before the conference participants: Mercury imports to India have more than doubled between 1996 and 2002 from 254 tonnes per annum to 531 tonnes per annum. India has now displaced the US as the biggest consumer of mercury. It consumes 50 per cent of the global production and processes 69 per cent of mercury.

Alternatives are available, point out the participants in the conference: "For instance, the chlor-alkali industry, a key user of mercury, can switch to membrane cell processes.

In fact, in 2003, the Union Government gave a fiscal concession to this industry to promote a switchover. Similarly, substitutes are being used for medical equipment and for its other uses."

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