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Excessive mercury content on products alarms lawmaker

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A lawmaker on Wednesday expressed alarm over the continued sale of products containing excessive amounts of mercury in various products in the country.

Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara said the Ecowaste Coalition proved that 13 out of 14 whitening products sold in different parts of Manila violated the one part per million (ppm) mercury limit set by the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) Cosmetics Directive.

The products also did not label mercury as an ingredient though they contained excessive levels of mercury from 550 ppm to 60,800 ppm, he said.

"Despite the risks, mercury continues to be used in medical devices in school laboratories and even ordinary consumer products like toys, clothes, electronic gadgets, bags and drinking bottles which can be accessed easily by schoolchildren," he said.

Angara, chair of the HOuse committee on higher education, cited an incident in 2006 when St. Andrew's School in Paranaque was closed down when a class was exposed to mercury after a student accidentally opened a beaker containing mercury. More than half of the students were hospitalized and one of the students who inhaled mercury vapor could no longer go to school because of continuous high-grade fevers and tremors.

"School children should have the right to mercury-free schools. Schools should be able to provide a safe setting for children to learn, grow healthy and develop their full potential," he said.

Angara is urging on Congress to fast-track the approval of a bill that aims to protect individuals from mercury poisoning and mercury pollution.

He was author to House Bill 451 or the "Mercury Reduction Act," which pushes for a three-pronged approach to reducing mercury pollution.

The measure will mandate that products containing mercury use non-mercury alternatives instead. It also sets guidelines on the control of mercury release and mercury waste management.

The proposed Mercury Reduction Act also establishes an Environmental Advisory Council on Mercury Pollution which will be made up of one member each from the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and experts to be appointed by the President -- a public health specialist, toxicologist, scientist, representative of an environmental group, children's advocate and consumer advocate.

The Council will be tasked to make recommendations on how to prevent mercury pollution and reduce human exposure.

HB 451 also bans schools, universities and colleges from using mercury compounds in their laboratories.

"The Mercury Reduction Act will also prioritize public information and outreach. We have to make the public aware of the severe risks posed by mercury exposure and enable them to protect themselves from it," the Aurora solon said.

"Mercury exposure can cause a host of health problems and can even lead to serious damage to the nervous system of developing fetus and even death to young adults," he said.

"I urge my colleagues to support this bill. Let the 2006 incident be a lesson. The safety and security of school children should be our highest priority," he added.

By Lilybeth G. Ison-PNA




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