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November 23 Dr. Chien’s Eco-report: Mercury pollution that impacts health tremendously

Mercury, commonly known as quicksilver, exists not only in the rock layers of the earth's surface, but also in the atmosphere, the hydrosphere and the biosphere. In the early days in China, mercury was used in alchemy. As mercury could be used to extract gold from ores, it is an indispensable element in the mining industry. In modern times large amounts of mercury are also used in the various industries in addition to the mining industry, leading to increased use of mercury day by day. Take one chemical company in Japan for example, mercury is an important element in its manufacturing of acetaldehyde. In 1932 the company produced 210 tons of acetaldehyde in total. In 1960 the annual production was greatly increased to forty-five thousand tons. The high increase in production is not something to be ignored easily from the damage and pollution caused by mercury. 

 

In environmental issues related to mercury, the most famous one is the Minamata Protocol signed in Kumamoto, Japan. The protocol clearly forbids the import and export of products containing mercury. The background of the signing of the Minamata Protocol could be traced back to 1952 when there was an outbreak of domestic animals going crazy. The statistics was that more than fifty thousand domestic cats and dogs going crazy, jumping around and into the sea. At that time it was called the dancing disease and was later officially renamed Minamata disease.

 

In was confirmed in 1956 that Minamata disease would definitely cause damage to human beings. Research shows that the symptoms of Minamata disease include shaking of the body, insomnia, mood swings, muscle atrophy, headaches and neuro-digestive disorders. In 1997 the confirmed cases were 15,615 and 1,246 people died from it.

 

At present, countries around the world still do not place too much emphasis on the damage caused by mercury pollution. In order to prevent irreparable damage in the future, it takes international cooperation to ameliorate mercury pollution. The first step is that the government in every country should conduct a general survey on the amount of mercury and understand the use of mercury in businesses in each country as well as set up a well-rounded recycling mechanism in order to effectively prevent dispersion of mercury pollution and lessen the damage brought by Minamata disease.

 

In UNFCCC COP19 this year, fewer government and NGO representatives attended compared with several previous conventions. In this convention in the side event hosted by TAISE and Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), the achievements of reduction in industrial waste disposal and turning garbage into resource were shared to let the world see Taiwan's efforts in carbon dioxide reductions and were highly valued by the media.