ASSOCIATED MERCURY PLAN FOR THE PHILIPPINES
Cover photo: Adapted from Californians Against Waste 2008,’Mercury in our Bodies and the Ocean’, Californians Against Waste, USA, viewed 16 June 2008, < www.cawrecycles.org/files/images/mercury.jpg>.
Mercury is one of the most toxic elements known to man since it is a volatile hazardous heavy metal that easily evaporates at room temperature. According to reports by the USEPA, mercury is a neurotoxin that can adversely affect the central nervous system while mercury compounds have the following health hazards: teratogenic or capable to cause birth defects, toxic to lethal via ingestion or absorption, toxic to the following organs or systems: central nervous system, digestive system, kidney, liver and skin. Methyl mercury, the most toxic form of mercury compound can be ingested thru contaminated fish and seafood. The Philippines, being an archipelago, has a large subsistence and economic dependency on fish consumption.
People can also be exposed to other hazardous forms of mercury in school science laboratories, at work and at home. It was also recognized that some common items in schools contain elemental mercury include: thermometers, barometers, switches, thermostats, flowmeters, lamps, and laboratory reagents, as well as at home: light switches, fluorescent bulbs, paints shoes and batteries and even some beauty products. Hence despite its beneficial use, there is now a worldwide concern on the presence of mercury in the environment that could adversely affect the ecosystem and especially humans.
There are two compilations of experiences from several countries on reduction or sound management of mercury, mercury compounds, and mercury-containing products. UNEP Chemicals has published in June 2006 a Guide for Reducing Major Uses and Releases of Mercury which was a reference in developing this Action Plan. The Guide mentions general best practices for reducing mercury releases at very low costs such as (a) Training, education, and motivation of staff and operators; (b) Process control optimization; (c) Regular maintenance; and (d) Operational awareness of the importance of environmental management. Most recently in 2007, the Nordic Council of Ministers presented their Mercury Substitution Priority Working List which is an input to global considerations on mercury management. International experiences on the best available techniques and best environmental practices (BAT/BEP) especially from Europe and the USA have been used in this proposed mercury action plan for the Philippines but it is not as exhaustive as desired.
In the Philippines, a mercury inventory assessment was undertaken using the UNEP Toolkit. The results showed that mercury comes mostly from the energy and mining sectors as well as institutional and household sources. There is therefore a need to develop a unified action plan to consider the reduction or elimination of mercury releases in the Philippines using the following approaches: technical, socio-economic, political, information and awareness and capacity building. This associated mercury action plan is based on international experiences with local adaptations as well as from inputs of stakeholders during the various consultations. This plan should be updated occasionally as new knowledge is acquired.
Situation Analysis and Gap Analysis
The mercury inventory assessment for the Philippines (separate document) has presented an indication of the pattern of emissions and sources of large generators of