The Ministry of Environment, Science Technology and Innovation (MESTI) has begun the process required to ratify and rapidly implement the Minamata Convention on mercury to protect human life and the environment against mercury poisoning.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which is under the Ministry, has therefore led a national stakeholder’s inception workshop towards the ratification and early implementation process of the convention.
In a speech read on his behalf, Mr Mahama Ayariga, Minister of MESTI told stakeholders at a meeting that it was expected that the convention would enter into force after 50 states have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance and accession.
So far 128 countries have signed the agreement while 18 have ratified it, but Ghana who signed the convention on September 24, 2014, is yet to ratify it.
The convention has set several measures in motion to control mercury added products, supply sources and trade, manufacturing processes, artisanal and small scale-gold mining, emissions and releases, Mr Ayariga said.
Countries are expected, as part of the process, to undertake an initial assessment and collect information that would help their decision to ratify and develop a national implementation plan to reduce emissions.
He said some important agreements by governments in the new treaty included banning of the production, export and import of mercury containing products by 2020.
The products expected to be phased out include batteries, except for button cell batteries used in implantable medical devices; switches and relays; and certain types of compact fluorescent lamps.
Governments would also be bound to ban mercury in cold cathode fluorescent lamps and external electrode fluorescent lamps; certain kinds of non-electronic medical devices such as thermometers and blood pressure devices.
But the Minister said Ghana was challenged to strengthen existing capacities and infrastructure for sound implementation and would require technology transfer, technical and financial assistance to successfully meet its obligation.
“There are many challenges that must be overcome by Ghana. We need to strengthen existing capacities and infrastructure for sound management of the chemical and its associated waste,” he said.
“We hope that Ghana would be supported by way of technical and financial assistance; capacity building and technology transfer to successfully meet our obligations as required in the convention.”
The Executive Director of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Mr Daniel Amlalo, said the meeting was a significant towards ratification and early implementation of the convention, and an opportunity for stakeholders to critically examine its elements and adopt strategies that could be accepted at national level.
He warned that mercury is unimaginably toxic and dangerous chemical, saying, “a single drop on a human hand can be irreversibly fatal and such drop in a large lake can render the fish in it unsuitable for human consumption.”
The chemical is a common ingredient in paints, pesticides, batteries, fluorescent light bulbs and thermometers, he said, but the world has awoken to the dangers posed by the toxic chemical and its compounds with the introduction of the convention.
According to Mr Amlalo in 1956, 900 people died while 2,265 are still suffering from mercury poisoning from a tragic incident in the Japanese town of Minamata.
The convention is expected to alert the world to the severity of mercury pollution and expresses the strong commitment of governments and institutions never to repeat the tragedy caused by mercury.
“Victims can suffer memory loss and language impairment alongside many other problems,” he said.
He said Ghana was fully aware of the dangers posed by mercury-containing products and wastes like electrical and electronic wastes, non-electrical medical devices, such as thermometers and blood pressure devices and dental fillings mercury amalgam.
“This is a real concern and therefore places the environmentally sound management of these imported products and hazardous wastes a high priority for action,” he said.
The EPA, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research organised the meeting with funding support from the Switzerland government and Friends of the Nation, an environmental NGO.
The convention was initiated in 2009 by the United Nations Environment Programme, but the text was agreed upon in January 2013, and adopted at the conference of Plenipotentiaries in Kumamoto, Japan on October 10, 2013 and opened for signature.