Unspoken silent killer

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Mercury in CFLs

Any country or civilization which makes use of modern technologies is obviously vulnerable to the adverse environmental and health effects that these technologies entail. Sri Lanka also has experienced such issues from time to time, with severe effects, both social and political. The recent arsenic issue, still unresolved, is the best example. No one has been able to find the root cause. Neither have the authorities been able to eliminate the adverse consequences.

In a futuristic sense mercury could cause similar damage, if nothing is done to curb the current pattern of its use. Mercury (chemical symbol Hg) is a heavy metal which is extremely hazardous and toxic to human health. Less than a single gram of mercury could lead to painful death. The compounds which are created by mercury have very strong bonds and lasts longer even in harsh environmental conditions. Consequently these compounds are accumulated in the human body through food and water.

The direct adverse consequences of mercury include the damages to the brain, kidneys and lungs. Vision, hearing, speech impairment also can be caused by Mercury. This toxic heavy metal can result in several fatal diseases, including Acrodynia (pink disease), Hunter-Russell syndrome and Minamata disease which lead to painful deaths.

This would prove to be a much more critical issue than the Arsenic problem; because the adverse effects of mercury accumulation in the body are significantly more dangerous compared to effects of Arsenic.

Violating recommendations
In Sri Lanka, the leading mercury contribution to the environment is through Compact Florescent Lamps (CFL)s compared to other mercury sources. Almost all CFLs in Sri Lanka are imported from China. The Chinese CFL tube manufacturers often violate the recommended standards in order to provide the customer desired illumination level with a low manufacturing cost. They use higher mercury levels, over twice the accepted mercury level in order to generate higher illumination.
The disappointing fact is that none of the CFL manufacturers in Sri Lanka follow a standard practice or a reliable method in order to quantify and evaluate the amount of mercury in a bulb. The globally accepted standard mercury level for CELs is as followsThere is no leakage of mercury when the bulb is intact (not broken). But, when the bulbs are broken or replaced carelessly, mercury can find its way into drinking water. In Sri Lanka, an average consumer uses at least five CFLs per house. So one can get a rough idea of the total number of CFLs used and yet to be replaced at the end of their lifetime. The CFLs used in houses have become stealthy mercury vessels that will ultimately end up in soil and drinking water resources.
The drinking water source for the major cities in the country including the capital is the Kelani River. If the Kelani River is polluted by Mercury, directly or indirectly, the majority of water consumers in Sri Lanka would be subjected to all the adverse effects of the mercury pollution.

The responsibility lies with the CFL manufacturers (importers) and the respective statuary authorities like Central Environmental Authority (CEA), Sustainable Energy Authority (SEA), Sri Lanka Standard Institution (SLSI) and Ministry of Health. Also, the public awareness on proper disposal of CFLs is a necessary preventive action.

The major responsibility component should be undertaken by the CFL manufacturers of Sri Lanka. This can be carried out at two levels.

1. Ensure that the standard level of mercury in the bulbs at the point of import, complies with the recommended standards.

2. Introduce proper CFL waste management system (re-collecting and exporting them back to their foreign supplier, introduce CFL disposal machines that employ mercury extracting mechanisms.)

The government should strictly adhere to standards and enact regulations to guide CFL importing companies in order to ensure the quality of imported CFLs. Statutory authorities like Central Environmental Authority (CEA) should introduce proper methods for disposing waste CFLs. The Ministry of Health should raise new policies in order to assure that safe and permitted mercury levels are met. The Sri Lanka Standard Institution (SLSI) should continuously monitor the amount of mercury inside CFLs at point of import.

Consumers should prevent at all cost, disposing broken CFLs. They should return them to the respective manufacturing company whenever possible or hand them over to the same outlet from which they were bought. These respective parties should follow necessary environmentally friendly disposal procedures which cannot be practiced at domestic level. Consumers should be aware of the adverse effects of mercury and should strictly adhere to regulations that above statuary authorities enforce.
As a country, we can overcome these adverse effects only by efforts of all stakeholders; if not, sooner or later mercury pollution will create a huge environmental disaster not only in Sri Lanka, but the entire world.

Last modified on Sunday, 18 January 2015 01:22

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