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All about mercury (Download pdf)

Mapping the Scourge
India is a mercury pollution hotspot

Water contamination
Mercury pollution in water is widespread in India. This is a very serious problem and urgent steps need to be taken to completely ban or severely restrict the usage of mercury.

The main reason for groundwater contamination in places like Gujarat (Vatva, Ankleshwar and Vapi) and Andhra Pradesh (Patancheru, Medak) is the industrial practice of pumping untreated effluents into the ground through borewells. Even contaminated effluent flowing through rivers and streams or rainwater percolating through contaminated soil (at sites where toxic wastes are dumped or land-filled) can leach into the groundwater. Rainwater also absorbs mercury vapours in the atmosphere from far-off sources.

Mercury concentration in fish and other species
Place Fish/other species  Hg concentration in mg total Hg/kg dw permissible limit: 0.5 ppm) Maximum value:no. of times or higher than ppm (permissible limit Reference
North Koel river, Bihar     600 — 700 ‘Mercury concentration of fishes in north Koel river’, Rehela (Palamau), Bihar, India. Indian Biologist, 23 (2) (1992), 58-60
Mumbai, West coast,
Sagar Island, East coast West Bengal
0.03 — 0.82
0.13 — 10.82
1.05 — 3.60
1.42 — 4.94
0.06 — 2.24
Chemosphere, Vol. 33, 147-158 (1996),cited in Global Mercury Assessment, UNEP
Chemicals, 2002
Binage, Karwar, Karnataka Oysters 0.18 — 0.54 1.1 Heavy Metal distribution in the biotic and abiotic matrices along Karnataka coast, West coast of India, Indian Journal of Marine Sciences, vol. 27, June 1998, pp. 201-205

Mercury has been detected in the water (ground-water and surface-water) in the vicinity of chlor-alkali industries using the mercury cell technology and in the vicinity of dyes, paints and pigments manufacturing units that use mercury-based catalysts in their manufacturing processes.

To avoid a mercury disaster in the near-future, industries using mercury in its processes should immediately shift to non-mercury alternatives.

Methyl mercury intake through tainted fish can put the population at grave risk, especially the newly-born

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Fish contamination
The coastal areas of India are significantly polluted with mercury and high levels of mercury is being detected in Indian fish, both saline and freshwater. The Minamata disaster was caused by consuming mercury-tainted fish. To prevent such a tragedy from happening in India, people who eat fish need to be made aware of mercury contamination and its implications.

Soil and sediments contamination
The level of mercury in soil is an indicator of its potential to contaminate rainwater and groundwater. It also gives an indication of its contamination potential in crops and vegetables grown in that soil. Soil contamination could be caused either by direct dumping or land-filling of mercury-contaminated wastes or due to the presence of mercury in the atmosphere. The level of mercury in water-body sediments is a representation of the history of contamination in that water body. Minamata bay had to be dredged of toxic mercury-contaminated sediments in order to restore the water quality.

From the map (opposite), it is clear that mercury hotspots are distributed uniformly throughout the country. Due to the extremely mobile nature of mercury, it is likely that there could be more hotspots. This needs to be investigated by further testing of point sources such as smokestacks, ambient air, surface and groundwater and contaminated soil from dumping grounds and landfills, and random soil samples from other locations.

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