Mercury Releases May Be Reduced by Advanced Technologies. A List of Them Will Be Made by Experts from All Over the World

2.3.2014 - OTTAWA/PRAGUE
Group photo of participants of negotiations on mercury BAT/BEP in Ottawa. Jindrřich Petrlík from Arnika is the second from the left.

A team of about forty experts on toxic mercury pollution started to work on guidelines which should ensure that this heavy metal be not released into the environment. The task of the expert panel is to prepare guidelines on reducing mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and boilers, from non-ferrous metals metallurgy, cement works, and waste incinerators. These industries have been defined as important pollution sources by a new global Convention on Mercury. The panel has also a Czech member, the head of the Toxics And Waste Programme, RNDr. Jindřich Petrlík from the Arnika Assocation, who was delegated by the international network IPEN. The Czech Republic also faces problems with mercury.

In the beginning of their work already, the experts discussed the question of relations between global climate change and toxic mercury pollution. „Coal-fired power plants burden the environment both by greenhouse gases and high amounts of mercury. Certain technologies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions contribute also to reduction of mercury releases, and their utilisation may help to solve both these problems," says the Czech representative in the expert panel, RNDr. Jindřich Petrlík from the Arnika Association.

„However, when looking for a solution of the problem of mercury releases into the air, fly ash captured on the filters must not be neglected. For example, Arnika helped its Thai colleagues to draw attention to high contamination of fish by mercury that had been released from a fly ash disposal site of a coal-fired power plant. The document under preparation should help especially governments of developing countries to avoid such problems in the future," explained Petrlík another of the problems that will be dealt with by the international group of experts in the next two years.

„The data in the Czech Integrated Pollution Register show that Czech power plants are releasing high amount of mercury into the air, too. High amounts of mercury are also present, for example, in wastes from Czech waste incinerators. The document that should be finished by the expert panel in 2015 will be helpful also to the Czech government, industry, as well as non-governmental organisations, in efforts to reduce releases of this toxic metal and its compounds," described Petrlík the usefulness of the document for the Czech Republic.

Thirty one experts who met in Ottawa in Canada in order to start work on guidelines on the best available techniques and practices for prevention of mercury releases into the environment were delegated by governments of states from Africa, North and Latin America, Asia, Australia, as well as Europe. Further eight experts were nominated by non-governmental organisations and industry associations. The head of the Toxics and Waste Programme of the Arnika Assocation was nominated by the international network IPEN (International POPs Elimination Network). The discussions are organised by the United Nations Environment Programme, and the Secretariat of the international Convention on Mercury.

When cooperating with the IPEN network on global mercury monitoring in fish and human hair (4), people from the Arnika Association saw that such guidelines or manual are necessary on the international level. In some developing countries, there are rural communities, or even whole islands, that depend on fishing, and fish forms also a considerable part of their food. This is true also for developed Japan. Namely in the case of Japanese, recommended limits of mercury concentrations in hair has been exceeded often, similarly as in the case of people who live in the neighbourhood of mercury emission sources in Thailand, Russia, Indonesia, and Cameroon. The guidelines under preparation will help to level off conditions for operation of industrial plants in various countries. However, it will depend on political will and machinery of government in the individual Parties to the Convention how seriously they will observe recommendations for operation of power plants, cement works, metallurgical plants and waste incinerators in their countries.

A result of the first discussions, organised with support of the Canadian government and the European Union, has been more specific outline of the contents of the future guidelines. In the next few years, it should be approved by the first meeting of the signatory countries of the Convention on Mercury. In addition to description of the best filters for capturing mercury emissions, it will also deal with the problem of their prevention – for example through adoption of better waste management systems, especially in developing countries, but also through improved waste separation and recycling, before the individual countries decide to incinerate waste. The current task of the nominated experts is to present specific recommendations and contents in the document, both for the governments of the future Parties to the Convention on Mercury and for the industry.

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