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A Toxics-Free Future


AGENDA Briefs East African Business Week about Mercury Risks

Tanzanian specialists warn on mercury

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania - Health officials and civil society organizations have warned of the dangers from continued use of products containing mercury.

They cited cancer, brain damage and kidney failure as some serious illnesses caused by the chemical.

Recently, AGENDA Chairperson Prof Jamidu Katima, briefed East African Business Week in Dar es Salaam during an advocacy meeting, on the mercury phase out campaign.

He said the mercury is particularly very dangerous to pregnant women and children.

Katima said the government must set a national objective for halting use of mercury in dental cavities and other dental restoration.

“We need to promote the use of best environmental practices in dental facilities to reduce the release of mercury and its compounds to water and land,” he said.

The President of Tanzania Dental Association Dr Lorna Carneiro said water pathways, discharged from wastewater treatment systems from dental clinics, were the main form through which mercury finds its way to the environment.

According to Prof Febronia Kahabuka, Senior Lecturer at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Science, mercury in dental amalgam, has been used for the past 150 years.

She said, “Mercury is among the heavy metals; its emission is enormous with most waste management companies contracting diseases for lack of handling facilities.

We need to phase-out mercury amalgam in hospitals and continue to educate the public and create an awareness campaign against its usage.”

She said research about the amalgam effects to patients and medical practitioners needs to be done.

A 2013 research conducted by AGENDA in 56 schools and 44 healthcare centres including dental clinics and hospitals, artisanal and small scale miners in regions of Dar-es-salaam, Mbeya, Arusha, Mwanza, Dodoma, Pwani and Geita found that dental sections and clinics with open windows, the levels of mercury were moderate above the WHO limits of 300 ng/m3 maximum.

During amalgam filling and removal, the levels were recorded to be very high and reached 9655ng/m3.

AGENDA Program Officer, Haji Rehani said the project also found out that 60% of health workers and 75% (teachers & students) do not wear protective gears when handling mercury products or equipment thus exposing them to health risks.

He said, the study found that 88% respondents do not know what to do when a mercury containing equipment breaks/spills and 78% of schools and healthcare facilities are continuing to purchase mercury containing equipment and chemicals.

He said their campaign is focused on creating awareness and build capacity. “It was learnt that there is no specific training on mercury management that has been conducted to teachers, healthcare workers, lab technicians and students in any of the attended schools and healthcare facilities,” Rehani said.

Minamata Convention is a mercury treaty which had been finalised in 2013 and many countries have already signed it into the convention including Tanzania. Six countries have already ratified phasing out mercury production and usage globally.

By Emmanuel Kisima, Sunday, October 19th, 2014