Filipinos can look forward to a mercury-free Philippines as soon as the country ratifies the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said this in a message read by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Undersecretary Atty. Jonas R. Leones following the launch of the country’s Minamata Initial Assessment (MIA) report in Quezon City on Wednesday.

The report, which was prepared by the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the DENR, outlines the national requirements and needs for the implementation of the Minamata Convention.

Cimatu expressed hope the release of the MIA report would “serve as a kickoff point for our campaign for a mercury-free lifestyle for a safer environment.”

“Once it ratifies the convention, the Philippines will be protected from being a dumping ground for products containing mercury and will help avoid further risk to the country’s aquatic life, where mercury levels have been increasing,” Cimatu added.

The Minamata Convention is the world’s first legally binding treaty to phase out mercury, a highly toxic substance that poses threats to the environment and human health.

In 2013, the Philippines was one of the 128 countries that signed the convention, which regulates the use and trade of mercury.

The convention is named after the Japanese city where industrial emissions of the toxic substance caused a poisoning disease affecting thousands of people in the 1950s.

The Philippines has yet to ratify the convention, which entered into force in August 2017.

The MIA was prescribed by the convention to establish a baseline report, which will help the county prepare in dealing with mercury once the treaty is ratified by the Senate and its provisions are implemented.

According to the MIA report, the primary anthropogenic sources of mercury in the country or those that result from human activities, is the extraction and use of energy sources. This is followed by the production of primary or virgin metal, which includes mining and gold processing, and the production of other minerals and materials with mercury impurities.

Mercury inventory is one of the important decision-making tools towards mitigating environmental impacts brought about by toxic pollutants such as mercury.

The report identified four areas in the country with confirmed mercury contamination. These are Palawan Quicksilver Mines, Mambulao River in CamarinesNorte, Mabuhay Vinyl in Lanao del Norte, and Lumanggang Creek in Compostela Valley.

It also identified suspected mercury contaminated sites in 11 regions in the country, including the Meycauayan River, Manila Bay, mining sites and gold processing sites in CamarinesNorte and Masbate, landfills in Barangay Inayawan in Cebu City, Consolacion town in Cebu province, Naboc River in Davao, and T’boli in South Cotabato.

Other sites include Agusan del Sur in Caraga region, the decommissioned Bulawan Mine of Philex Gold in Negros Occidental, the towns of Sipalay and Hinoban in Negros, SitioDalicno in Itogon, Benguet and the municipality of Licuan-Baay in Abra.

The MIA report stated that the Philippines is 100-percent compliant with the convention’s Article 16 on health aspects. In 2008, the Department of Health issued Administrative Order No. 2008-021 mandating the gradual phase-out of mercury in all Philippine health care facilities and institutions.

To ensure the effective implementation of the Minamata Convention, it was recommended in the report, the creation of an inter-agency coordinating group composed of mercury focal points from different relevant government and private agencies to be chaired by the DENR.

The review of existing policies and regulations on mercury use and management was also recommended, as well as the creation of legislation to support the banning of mercury mines in the countryin accordance to Article 3 of the MinamataConvention on Mercury.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that mercury exposure can damage the nervous, digestive, respiratory, endocrine and immune systems.

It could also lead to impaired vision and hearing, cause paralysis, affect the development of the fetus, and cause developmental delays in children, the WHO added. ###