By Abdul Manan
LAHORE: Factories in the city are pumping hundreds of kilogrammes of mercury in the city’s air and water while the Environment Protection Department (EPD) has so far done nothing to curb this lethal pollution.
Talking to Daily Times, an EPD official said, “Mercury pollution is a very serious matter and should be dealt with on war footing.” He said that about six months ago, the federal agency for environment launched a project in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to prepare an inventory of mercury pollution. He said the federal agency tasked the EPD to do the work in Lahore, “but the EPD has done nothing and the expensive laboratory equipment [used to measure mercury in the air and water] is kept locked in the EPD store.”
He said the federal government had given the EPD the task to hold awareness seminars and programmes to sensitise factory owners on the increasing mercury levels in the city’s environment. But no such programme had been held, he added.
Punjab University Faculty of Science Dean Dr Chaudhry Jamil Anwar, who is also the head of the Institute of Chemistry, said people were unaware of the dangers of mercury pollution and factories were using mercury at a large scale. He said the EPD should check the use of mercury in incinerators and coal-fired power plants as well as industries preparing soda ash and pesticides.
Dr Anwar said that every agency, including the UNDP and the World Health Organisation, had set its own limit on the amount of mercury permissible in the air and water. “This means that the US follows a different standard than Europe and the rest of the world,” he added.
Dr Anwar said, “Ideally, the amount of mercury in air and water should not exceed 0.1 ppm [parts per million].” He said that he also knew about a factory in the city that was continuously dumping mercury in the Ravi River, poisoning the water and killing the fish.
Muhammad Adnan, chemical engineer at a factory, said his factory was using around 50 kg of mercury every day to prepare caustic soda. He said no government official had ever enquired about the use of mercury at his factory.
Dr Bilal Sanghi of the Services Hospital said, “Mercury is most dangerous when mixed with water because it reacts to produce methyl mercury, which is a very powerful neurotoxin. The fish eat this and when humans eat the contaminated fish, it damages their nervous, cardio-vascular and the immune systems besides various other parts of the human body.” He said the mercury also damages cultivated land and poisons rivers and lakes.
EPD Secretary Maj (r) Shahnawaz Badar confirmed that the federal agency had assigned the EPD the task to prepare an inventory of mercury in the city. He said the major sources of mercury pollution were incinerators, chemical industry drains, broken thermometers in hospitals, and broken glass. He said EPD had recently bought the equipment to measure mercury in the air and water. He said an EPD team would soon work on measuring mercury in the city’s environment.