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Oman hosts UNEP workshop on mercury management


@JmObserver -

The United National Environment Programme (UNEP) with the support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) conduct a training workshop on legal and institutional frameworks to manage mercury in the Sultanate of Oman. This is to facilitate the early implementation of the Minamata Convention as Oman is in the process of the development of the Minamata Initial Assessment (MIA). This will help assess the national use, emissions, and releases of mercury and its compounds in the Sultanate and develop an action plan for the implementation of Minamata Convention.

Dr Mohammed al Kasbi, Director of the chemicals and waste management department, Environment Authority
Dr Mohammed al Kasbi, Director of the chemicals and waste management department, Environment Authority

In May 28, 2020, His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik issued Royal Decree No 58/2020 ratifying Oman’s joining the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which was signed in Kunamoto, Japan on October 10, 2013. On June 2020, the Government of the Sultanate of Oman deposited its instrument of accession, thereby becoming the 122nd party to the Minamata Convention. The national focal point in Oman is Dr Mohammed al Kasbi, Director of the chemicals and waste management department, Environment Authority.

The specific objectives of the training workshop includes (1) training the national team on the compilation and assessment of the existing policy, institutional and legal frameworks for the management of chemicals, specifically mercury in the country data, and (2) understanding and providing insights on the challenges and recommendations in the management of mercury in the country.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury was the first new global convention on environment and health adopted for close to a decade. It is named after the place in Japan where, in the mid-20th century, mercury-tainted industrial wastewater poisoned thousands of people, leading to crippling symptoms that became known as the ‘Minamata disease’.

According to UNEP, mercury is a highly toxic heavy metal that poses a global threat to human health and the environment. Together with its various compounds, it has a range of severe health impacts, including damage to the central nervous system, thyroid, kidneys, lungs, immune system, eyes, gums and skin. Victims may suffer memory loss or language impairment, and the damage to the brain cannot be reversed. There is no known safe exposure level for elemental mercury in humans, and effects can be seen even at very low levels. Fetuses, newborn babies and children are amongst the most vulnerable and sensitive to the adverse effects of mercury. Mercury is transported around the globe through the environment, so its emissions and releases can affect human health and environment even in remote locations.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element. It can be released to the environment from natural sources – such as weathering of mercury-containing rocks, forest fires, volcanic eruptions or geothermal activities – but also from human activities.

Currently, it is mostly utilised in industrial processes that produce chlorine and sodium hydroxide (mercury chlor-alkali plants) or vinyl chloride monomer for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) production, and polyurethane elastomers. It is extensively used to extract gold from ore in artisanal and small -scale gold mining. It is contained in products such as electrical switches (including thermostats), relays, measuring and control equipment, energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs, batteries and dental amalgam. It is also used in laboratories, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, including in vaccines as a preservative, paints, and jewellery.

Mercury is also released unintentionally from some industrial processes, such as coal-fired power and heat generation, cement production, mining and other metallurgic activities such as non-ferrous metals production, as well as from incineration of many types of waste.

Once released, mercury persists in the environment where it circulates between air, water, sediments, soil and biota in various forms. Mercury can be transported long distances in the atmosphere. It can also be incorporated by microorganisms and converted to methylmercury, and then concentrated up the food chain.

The objective of the Minamata Convention is to protect the human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds. It contains, in support of this objective, provisions that relate to the entire life cycle of mercury, including controls and reductions across a range of products, processes and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted. The treaty also addresses the direct mining of mercury, its export and import, its safe storage and its disposal once as waste.

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