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Study to shine new light on mercury

Written By krishna on Sunday, March 27, 2011 | 9:55 PM

Sifting through Delhi’s municipal rubbish every day, Anwarul Shaikh and Rupa Begum often find broken CFL bulbs mixed in kitchen and other domestic waste.

The compact fluorescent lamps have replaced incandescent bulbs in garbage mounds in the past couple of years, Rupa said, picking a few up. The glass tube and plastic end cap of a CFL fetch them up to Rs 3. Of late, Anwarul has been complaining of restricted vision.

Mercury vapour in broken CFLs could be the reason for Anwarul’s condition, said T K Joshi, director, occupational and environmental programmes centre of Maulana Azad Medical College in Delhi. Since mercury is a neurotoxin, it can affect all organs of the body. Its major impact is on the brain, lungs and kidneys, said Joshi. But with growing demand for energy-efficient lighting, the country’s production capacity for CFLs has gone up 25 times—from 19 mn in 2002 to 500 mn in 2010. The Centre’s Bachat Lamp Yojana, a scheme to popularise CFLs alone has pushed 20 million CFLs in the past three years. And all this is without any check on mercury pollution.

The CFLs sold in the country have 3-12 mg of mercury. As per the standards proposed by the International Electrotechnical Commission it should not be more than five mg.

Advanced technologies have even helped manufacturers in USA and Europe produce CFLs with just 1 mg of mercury. “Indian industry does not have any mandatory or voluntary standards for regulating mercury in florescent lights,” said Gopal Krishna of Toxics Watch, a non-profit in Delhi.

The Centre should have promoted energy efficient LED (light emitting diode) lights that do not contain mercury, he added. Assuming that each of the 350 million CFL bulbs produced in 2009 contained 5 mg mercury, 1,750 kg mercury would have been added to the waste in 2010. “There is no recycling unit for fluorescent lamps in India,” said an official at the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). In 2008 the board framed guidelines on mercury management in the CFL sector.

It said all mercury-contaminated lamps and cut glass tips “may be treated or recycled” in a recycling unit at production site or at an authorised unit.

The Board’s guideline was based on a task force report commissioned by Union environment ministry in 2007. The task force had recommended the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) to draw up standards for the amount of mercury in CFLs. But BIS is yet to draft mandatory standards. “One of the hindrances is the lack of advanced testing facility in the country,” said H C Kandpal of the National Physical Laboratory.

The task force had also called for a tax on CFLs to finance safe disposal of mercury. Its report mentioned industries could buy back CFLs for recycling them. The report did not go down well with the industry, which has commissioned another study.

Ruhi Kandhari,Down To Earth Features


Coal may soon become an essential commodity

New Delhi, March 2, 2011: Coal may become part of the list of essential commodities if the recommendation made by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Coal and Steel is implemented by the Government.

The Committee has asked the Government to include coal as an essential commodity to help curb pilferage and prevent illegal mining of the commodity. Coal was removed from the category of essential commodities under the Essential Commodity Act.

The Committee, which tabled its report in Parliament recently, suggested that the Coal Ministry should approach the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution for inclusion of coal as an essential commodity to control the production, supply and distribution of the commodity.

Cost of illegal mining

Further it suggested that Coal Ministry ask all coal companies to prepare a comprehensive document including the details of human lives lost, environmental degradation and the resultant loss to the national economy due to illegal mining.

Stating that the natural resources of the country are being plundered at the cost of national economy and destruction of environment, the Committee observed, “officials responsible to curb illegal mining are either indifferent or too scared to stop the menace. In short all responsible officials including State law enforcement officers are not at all interested to prevent illegal coal mining.”

A total of 583 cases of illegal mining have been reported by Coal India Ltd and its subsidiaries between April 2006 and September 2009. Stating that there may be thousands of cases that go unreported, the Committee felt that coal companies should deploy Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) in co-ordination with the State police for maintaining more vigil and curb illegal mining and theft of coal in leasehold areas.

A study done by Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad and Xavier Labour Research Institute, Jamshedpur for Government of Jharkhand estimates losses from coal theft and illegal mining to coal companies at Rs 106 crore and cost to the State Exchequer at Rs 34 crore a year in Jharkhand alone. Further, the panel suggested that Coal Ministry and Coal India should undertake a study to assess the extent of illegal mining.

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