away with

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The India’s industry continues to consume and emit mercury at alarming rates. Regulations compare poorly to those in developed countries

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All about mercury (Download pdf)

The Indian government has so far been unable to compile any comprehensive data on all the uses of mercury in the country.There are some 3,000 industrial uses. Whatever little data is available on annual consumption is out of date. But it is clear that the chlor-alkali industry, which manufactures caustic soda and chlorine using the mercury cell process, is the single largest mercury consuming industry in India, consuming about 70 tonnes of mercury each year. After the chlor-alkali industry, the major consumption of mercury in India happens during the production of batteries, thermostats, thermometers and barometers, and other electrical appliances such as mercury vapour lamps, electrical switches and fluorescent lamps.

Some leading mercury users in India (1998-2001)

Sector Mercury (Hg) content per unit Number of units produced Total amount of mercury
Chlor-alkali1 About 200 gm mercury used per tonne of caustic tonnes/year soda produced. All this mercury is passed on to the environment through emissions and products. 450,000 70 tonnes
Thermometers Varies between 0.6 to 1 gm. 8957,0002 7.2 tonnes
Batteries • Alkaline Not more than 25 mg NA  
• Mercury Zinc Total 33 to 50 per cent by weight of the battery 1,650 million3 25 tonnes5
• Zinc Carbon Total 1per cent Hg by (LeClanche) weight of the battery NA  
Fluorescent lamps 0.0252 to 0.080 gm / lamp6 150 million3 7.89 tonnes
Thermostat switches Between 3 gm to 6gm6 4051,0004 18.23 tonnes
Alarm clocks Average 0.6 or 0.7 gm per unit 1481,0002 0.96 tonnes
Hearing aids 0.4 gm per unit6 95,5003 0.04 tonnes
Source: 1. Environmental Rating of Indian Caustic-Chlorine Sector, Green Rating Project           (2002),Centre for Science and Environment.
2. Industrial Handbook, Centre for Industrial & Economic Research (Delhi), 1998
3. Industrial Handbook, Centre for Industrial & Economic Research (Delhi), 2000-01
5. Telephonic conversation with Battery Industry official
6. Draft Wisconsin Mercury Sourcebook, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources          (USEPA grant), May 1997
Applications using mercury allowed in India but banned or restricted in other countries
Catalytic mercury compounds
Pesticides (seed dressing)
Paints (latex paints and possibly others)
Electrical equipments, thermostats
Thermometers, other measuring instruments
Biocides in process industries
Source: Global Mercury Assessment, UNEP Chemicals, Dec. 2002

As India does not produce any mercury, all of it has to be imported. About 170–190 tonnes of mercury were imported and consumed each year from 1998 to 2001. And this is probably an underestimation as there is a thriving illegal trade in the commodity.

In developed countries, the use of mercury in various products is either banned or regulated. No concrete initiative has however been taken by the government of India to address the issue.

A draft notification was circulated by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) in 2000 for a phased elimination of mercury from consumer products, but so far no action has been taken. The government is also dragging its feet on the phasing out of existing mercury-based chlor-alkali plants. India is one of the very few countries to allow the use of catalytic mercury compounds in industrial chemical processes.

Total annual mercury pollution in India
(Average between 1991-92 and 2000-2001)
Sources Mercury use
Mercury released
Chlor-alkali Industry 70 70
Other mercury containing products 100 27.5–55
Unintentional mercury release
due to coal use
Nil * 75
Total 170 172.5–200
Source: GRP, CSE.
* On an average, about .25ppm of mercury is present in Indian coal

Unintentional mercury releases
The mercury content in coal found in India ranges between 0.01 parts per million (ppm) to 1.1 ppm. A typical power plant emits 90 per cent of its mercury into the air and 10 per cent to land. The main reason for such a high rate of emission is that mercury boils at low temperatures. Assuming the average mercury content in coal found in India to be 0.25 ppm, about 65 tonnes of mercury has been released every year between 1991–92 and 2000–2001 into the environment due to coal consumption alone, of which about 45.5 tonnes comes from thermal power plants.

End-of-pipe treatment technologies can effectively control this unintentional release. Unfortunately, the issue of unintentional release of mercury has not even been identified by the government as an environmental problem and therefore no initiatives have been taken to reduce the risks.

Total mercury pollution
From the estimations done by CSE’s Green Rating Project, the potential release of mercury into India’s environment could currently be anywhere between 172.5 – 200 tonnes every year, and these figures exclude releases from other fossil fuels. This amount represents a grave danger for the country.

Battery attack: household batteries may contain large amounts of mercury
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Estimation Methodology
Considering that the 11 mercury cell plants alone consume about 70 tonnes of mercury, at least 70 tonnes out of the total of 180 tonnes of mercury imported annually in India is immediately released into environment.

Besides, mercury is used in various products like clinical thermometers, medical instruments, fluorescent tubes, switches, electrical thermostats, batteries, pesticides, traditional Indian drugs and certain pharmaceutical and agricultural products. On an average, about 100 tonnes of mercury is consumed in these products. A majority of these products have a short life span and the mercury used in them quickly finds its way into the environment once the product has served its purpose. Here are two possible scenarios:

Unintentional release due to local consumptin
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Source: Estimated by GRP, CSE

Scenario 1: If only 25 per cent of these products have a shelf-life of less than a year, then 27.5 tonnes of mercury would be released into the environment from them annually. Add to that the additional mercury burden from coal use and the chlor-alkali industry, and the total annual release of mercury is 172.5 tonnes.

Scenario 2: If only 50 per cent of these products have a shelf-life of less than a year, then 55 tonnes mercury would be released each year into the environment from these products alone. Add to that the additional mercury burden from coal use and chlor-alkali industry, and the total annual release of mercury is 200 tonnes.

The problem assumes menacing proportions once we consider the fact that
mercury is highly mobile and travels far and wide. It represents a grave danger even for populations that have no major mercury polluting sources nearby.

Government initiatives and regulations to control mercury pollution (India compared to some other countries)
p68_1.jpg (1780 bytes) PRODUCTS

Still trying to bring about a legislation for phased elimination of mercury from consumer products such as thermometers, fluorescent tubes, batteries, electrical thermostats and switches, medical instruments and certain pharmaceutical and agricultural products with an exemption for essential products.

New mercury-based chlor-alkali plants have been banned, but the old ones are still allowed to operate.

Chlor-alkali plants: New mercury-based plants banned, few existing.
Batteries: mercury permitted at 0.025 per cent by weight (till 2004), 0.0001 per cent by weight for alkaline
manganese type (from 2005).

1 mg/kg.

European Community
Chlor-alkali plants: New ones banned, strict emission norms, total phasse-out by 2010.
Batteries and accumulators: 0.0005 per cent by weight
Button cells: Two per cent by weight, collection and safe disposal of spent batteries and accumulators.
Electrical and electronic equipment: Substitution of mercury by 2008.
Packaging: Sum of lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium: 100 mg/kg
Pesticides: Ingredients banned: Mercury oxide, mercurous chloride, other inorganic mercury compounds, alkyl mercury compounds, alkoxyalkyl and aryl mercury compounds.
Vehicles: Vehicle components released in the market after 1 July 2003 shall not contain mercury.
Marketing and use: Mercury compounds may not be used as substances and constituents of preparations in the following:

a. Hulls of boats, cages, floats, nets and any other appliances or equipment used for fish or shell-fish farming;
b. Any totally or partly submerged appliances or equipment;
c. The preservation of wood;
d. The impregnation of heavy-duty industrial textiles and yarn intended for their manufacture; and
e. In the treatment of industrial waters, irrespective of their use.

Import and export: Mercury oxide, mercurous chloride, other inorganic mercury compounds, alkyl mercury compounds, alkoxyalkyl and aryl mercury compounds are banned or restricted.

Chlor-alkali plants: Banned completely.
Batteries: Production of mercuric oxide batteries stopped in 1994.
Paints: Must not contain organomercury compounds.
Pesticides: No pesticide containing mercury, including pesticide for
seed dressing, has been registered since 1973.

Household products: Organic mercury compounds must not be detected in any product.

p68_3.jpg (1682 bytes) WASTE

Compost: 0.15 mg/kg in dry basis discharge.
Industrial effluents: 0.01 mg/l.
Treated leachate: 0.01 mg/l (land, water and sewers).
Chlor-alkali industry: From hydrogen gas holder stack: 0.2 mg/Nm3 Waste water generation: 10 kl / tonne
caustic soda produced, pH 5.5 to 9.0 No more new caustic soda plants based on the mercury cell process will be allowed.

Wastewater point sources: 0.05 mg/l.
Air emission point sources: Maximum discharge concentration of 0.015 mg/m3–0.012mg/m3.
Waste treatment, including incineration: 0.2 mg/m3.

Drain water and effluents: 0.005 mg/l total mercury. Alkyl mercury must not be detected.
Chlor-alkali industry: Stopped using mercury since 1984.

p68_2.jpg (4960 bytes) FOOD, WATER, AIR
and SOIL

Foodstuff: Vegetables: 0.5 mg/kg,
Milk: 0.003 mg/l,
Fish: 0.5 mg/kg.

Drinking water: 0.001 mg/l.

Residential ambient air: 0.0003 mg/m3 (daily average).
Sea water: 0.0005 mg/l–0.0002 mg/l.

Surface water: 0.00005 mg/l–0.001 mg/l.
Ground water: 0.00005 mg/l–0.001 mg/l.
Drinking water: < 0.001 mg/l, irrigation water: 0.001 mg/l.
Fisheries: 0.0005 mg/l.
Soil: 0.15 mg/kg - 1.5 mg/kg.

Foodstuffs: Fish: 0.5 mg/kg–1.0 mg/kg.

Drinking water: 0.001 mg/l.

Fish: 0.4 mg/kg total mercury, 0.3 mg/kg methyl mercury
Water: 0.0005 mg/l total mercury, alkyl mercury must not be detected. Alkyl mercury compounds: 0.01 mg/m3.
Soil: 0.0005 mg/l total mercury, no alkyl mercury.


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