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A HIGHLY IMPORTANT ISSUE : The minute Heavyweight – Mercury Is Deadly (MID)

Unfortunately, this article is not about Boxing, it is related to something very different.
As expected so much has been said and written in various media including the internet about this highly important issue: CT Power, of course. On seeing the influx of people, ranging from the layman to top politicians, voicing out their opinions, I just could not resist in getting into the debate ring especially when environmental issues are always passionate for me.
We do enjoy a degree of democratic freedom in Mauritius which explains the thick amount of opinions and the increasing number of petitioners saying ‘No to Coal.’ Moreover, the recent courage mustered by Mr. Jeff Lingaya, to go on a hunger strike to express his concerns, is quite commendable. On a lesser intense note, it was rather unexpected to find socio-religious Heads commenting on CT Power in 2012.  Their lobby that burning coal to produce electricity is the only solution to meet our future energy demands was an amazing case of Science and Religion making good allies in this modern world.
Scientific pundits…
My personal concerns on the issue revolve around the potential risks posed to the environment and health by the envisaged power plant. With all due respect, I can imagine that religious pundits may not understand the extent to which harnessing coal into energy has proven to be a polluting activity. But the scientific pundits involved in approving CT Power’s EIA Licence may be well aware of this blatant reality. As a matter of fact, the hazardous nature of gaseous emissions emanating from coal power plants as well as residual ashes produced has been much documented in scientific and environmental texts.
Coal is a naturally-occurring substance containing Carbon as main constituent chemical element, it also comprises other elements present in smaller proportions. When burnt, new substances are formed from the coal, some of these are well known for e.g. the GreenHouse Gas, Carbon dioxide (CO2) which has been strongly linked to Global warming and Climate Change. Other products of this burning process are emitted in smaller amounts but their effects on the environment and eventually on human health are dreadful. Among the toxins produced are compounds (type of substances) of the heavy-metal, Mercury.
Heavy-metal is an accepted scientific name in chemical nomenclatures. Mercury is so called due to its physical and chemical properties but it earned such a bad name a result of its ill-effects. In the pure state, the element is quite exceptional being the only metallic substance which remains in liquid form at room temperature and, thus, has been exploited in thermometers, barometers or other similar devices. It has also been used in dental amalgams, light bulbs, batteries, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, industrial and analytical chemicals before its notoriety came to be known due to scientific evidence.
The Minamata Tragedy
The situation of Mercury is analogous to a ‘heavyweight’ boxer or fighter in a ring owing to its ability to cause serious harm. Since more than a century, the heavy-metal has captured the attention of health experts, scientists, environmentalists amongst others across the world. The classical case of Mercury pollution remains the Minamata Tragedy in 1957 – 1958, whereby local inhabitants of the Minamata Bay, Japan, got heavily intoxicated by consuming fish and sea foods contaminated with Mercury compounds present in wastewaters discharged into their bay. An unfortunate event, but definitely a historical starting point that now places Mercury very high on the list of pollutants across the world.   
As many pollutants, Mercury and its compounds easily find their way into the environment by entering food chains and food webs i.e. are absorbed by small living creatures which are consumed by larger ones and in turn eaten by man. Scientific studies have concluded the heavy-metal to be highly toxic even in minute quantities as it is able to bio-accumulate i.e. getting absorbed into body fats of living beings. Vital human organs like the brain and the kidneys are the most affected ones by Mercury pollution. It has also been found that young children and pregnant women run higher health risks. Consequently, very strict norms are applicable with regard to Mercury levels in food, water and air.
I believe that readers must be wondering why I hopped from CT Power to Mercury. Well, there’s a link between them. If January 2013 has been eventful of the CT Power affair, it has also been a landmark month to address issues of Mercury pollution in the world. Indeed representatives from more than 140 countries gathered in Geneva, Switzerland came up with a treaty on Mercury under the auspices of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). The treaty christened as the ‘Minamata Convention’ was in the pipeline since the past few years and has simply reinforced the bad image of Mercury throughout the world after concerted negotiations. Mercury is now at par with other substances such as the ChloroFluoroCarbons (CFCs) subject to international regulations.
When in force, the Minamata Convention will have its signatories taking firm commitments on the use of Mercury in various products but also on their industrial emissions which contain the toxic villain. A complete ban and substantial reduction of emissions will surely take time to achieve but new reports on Mercury pollution would still come up. The UNEP Global Mercury Assessment Report 2013 obviously drafted for the Geneva meeting depicts a clear picture of the ill-effects of the heavy-metal. The report stated that coal burning is the highest source of Mercury emitted in the air, accounting for 24 % of all Mercury pollution. Figures mentioned an alarming annual estimate of 475 tonnes of Mercury in the air.  
Coal burning has been heavily exploited since the Industrial Revolution but the state of the Earth is different from what it was in the 1800s. There are certainly other environmentally-friendly alternatives to obtain energy. As a matter of fact, many industrialised nations have resorted for a timely phasing-out of their coal-fired power plants. Astonishingly, our authorities seem to be creating an opposite scenario in Mauritius. In any case, it is strongly hoped that the power production will not jeopardise the Maurice Ile Durable (MID) concept. Consequently any ‘coal-minded’ promoter or industrialist would have to show a greater sense of responsibility for environmental and health risks while bearing in mind a new MID slogan: Mercury Is Deadly.
From Tragedy to Convention, the journey took more than 50 years for mankind to realise the nasty effects of Mercury. This is reminiscent of the fact that a ‘Sustainable Development’ is of utmost importance to us. The very essence of Sustainable Development lies in doing what is good now, so that our future generations will not suffer from our present decisions and actions. How I wish that this simple message be unanimously understood and implemented in national interest for posterity! 

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