Saturday November 25, 2017

Minamata Convention on Mercury: A Landmark UN Treaty which Aims to Keep Millions Safe from Mercury Poisoning, comes into Effect

So far, 128 countries have signed the treaty and 74 have ratified it

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A woman holds a victim of "Minamata Disease," or mercury poisoning, in Minamata, Japan, in a 1973 photo. The Minamata Convention, a global treaty aimed at curtailing the mining and use of mercury, took effect Wednesday. VOA
  • A landmark global treaty aimed at keeping millions safe from the horrors of mercury poisoning took effect Wednesday
  • The treaty requires governments to stop mercury mining, continue to cut mercury use in industry and slash emissions
  • Governments that signed the treaty must also meet tough conditions for storing and safely disposing mercury waste

The 2013 Minamata Convention was named for the Japanese bay from which mercury-tainted fish left thousands of people with severe brain damage in 1956. Industrial wastewater had been dumped into the bay for more than 20 years.

So far, 128 countries have signed the treaty and 74 have ratified it.

“The Minamata Convention shows that our global work to protect our planet and its people can continue to bring nations together,” UN environmental chief Erik Solheim said Wednesday. “We did it for the ozone layer and now we’re doing it for mercury, just as we need to do it for climate change.”

ALSO READ: Exploiting Nature, Exploiting Lives – HUL’S Mercury leaching in Kodaikanal

Mercury was commonly used in batteries, fluorescent lights, felt production, thermometers, and barometers. These uses have been phased out. The treaty requires governments to stop mercury mining, continue to cut mercury use in industry and slash emissions.

Mercury is an extremely poisonous metal that never breaks down. Contact with it attacks the nervous system and can cause brain damage, severe emotional problems, coma, and even death. Children are especially at risk.

Mercury forms naturally in the environment but is also man-made for industrial uses.

“There is no safe level of exposure to mercury nor are there cures for mercury poisoning,” the U.N. says.

Governments that signed the treaty must also meet tough conditions for storing and safely disposing mercury waste. (VOA)

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Study: Drinking and Smoking can cause Problems to the Dental Fillings

Failure of Dental fillings in smokers and alcohol drinkers.

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Smoking causes failure of Dental fillings
Smoking causes failure of Dental fillings. Pixabay
  • Indulging in smoking or drinking alcohol may not only damage your teeth but also lead to increased incidences of failure in dental fillings, warned researchers.

The findings, led by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, showed that within two years of the dental procedure, Dental fillings failed more often in patients who drank alcohol, while the overall filling failure rate was higher in men who smoked.

Furthermore, people with a difference in the gene for matrix metalloproteinase (MMP2) — an enzyme found in teeth — were at increased risk of Dental filling failure.

This could be because MMP2 might be able to degrade the bond between the filling and the tooth surface, potentially leading to failure, the researchers said.

The results, published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine, suggest that genetic analysis might help dentists to personalize treatments for their patients, which could lead to improved outcomes.

“A better understanding of individual susceptibility to dental disease and variation in treatment outcomes will allow the dental field to move forward,” said Alexandre Vieira, a researcher from the varsity.

“In the future, genetic information may be used to personalize dental treatments and enhance treatment outcomes,” Vieira added.

For the study, the team from America and Brazil analyzed dental records of 807 patients.
Fillings can fail for a variety of reasons, including re-emergence of the initial tooth decay or the filling becoming detached.

The researchers also examined if newer composite resin Dental fillings are as durable as traditional amalgam fillings, which have been in use for more than 150 years but which contain mercury, a toxic metal.

The researchers found that overall, there were no major differences between patients receiving amalgam or composite Dental fillings in terms of filling failure rates. (IANS)

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“Bloody-Stream”: Russian river Daldykan mysteriously turns red in Siberia

A possible environmental hazard comes to light as a Russian river near the industrial town Norilsk comes to light

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Blood red Daldykan river in Russia, Satellite image, Google
  • Russian river near Norilsk has turned blood red 
  • Possible culprit might be Norilsk Nickel which has a metal plant upstream
  • There is no immediate threat to residents as river isn’t connected to public water supply

Sept 13, 2016: The citizens of Norilsk woke up to a nasty surprise on Tuesday, Sept 06 when they saw the Daldykan river had turned blood red. The residents say that this isn’t the first time this has happened but did not explain further on the subject.

Many possible reasons have been pointed for this change ranging from the iron ore in ground to leak from pipes to some even citing bible and pointing to an apocalypse. Russia’s natural resources and environment ministry has started an investigation and says preliminary information points toward Norilsk Nickel’s Nadezhda Metallurgical Plant which is located upstream.

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In an official statement, it said,” the water may have reddened due to discharge from “an unidentified chemical” from the nearby Nadezhda Metallurgical Plant on Wednesday. If a pipeline broke, contaminants could have leaked into the river, the ministry added.

Norilsk Nickel denied an industrial spill into the Daldykan and said the “colour of the river today doesn’t differ from its usual condition”, the state news agency RIA Novosti reported. But the company said it was temporarily reducing manufacturing work while it monitored the situation.

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Although the residents are no immediate danger as the Daldykan river is not connected to the public water supply; The environmental damage can’t be ignored. Norilsk is a resource rich area near the world’s largest deposits of nickel, copper, and palladium.

Payal Sampat, the mining program director at Earthworks, an environmental organization says, “It’s known that Norilsk is one of the most polluted sites in Russia. It was a ticking time bomb that was on the verge of exploding,”and it’s gone off.”

– prepared by Anubhuti Gupta with inputs from various sources

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How Indian govt may protect US nuclear firms against Indian liability law

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by Amit Bhandari

New Delhi: A $48-billion (Rs 3.26 lakh crore) penalty claimed by the US government from Volkswagen for cheating on diesel car emissions is about 200 times as large as the $225 million (Rs 1,500 crore) insurance pool set up by Indian insurance companies to compensate US nuclear power companies for mishaps in India.

If a US nuclear company were to build a reactor in India that suffered a catastrophe, and people were to die in India, the US government’s position seems to be that American suppliers shouldn’t face civil or criminal liability. The US believes the Indian civil nuclear liability law, which calls for both penalties, is unduly harsh. Rather than say so directly, US officials keep repeating that the “Indian law is inconsistent with the international liability regime”.

The Indian civil nuclear liability law holds the equipment supplier responsible for any incident caused by the supplier or its employees. The Indian liability law differs from those of other countries because it was drafted keeping in mind the 1984 Bhopal tragedy –where, despite 5,000 deaths and effects across generations, no one was held criminally liable.

The penalty demanded in the Volkswagen case is about 100 times the compensation of $470 million – ($907 million in 2014 dollars) – paid by the US firm Union Carbide after the Bhopal Gas tragedy, which also left 70,000 people maimed or injured. Volkswagen’s cover-up caused no injuries or deaths.

Although the Indian government wants to protect US nuclear companies against the Indian liability law, critics argued that these companies are using India’s eagerness to avoid any liability, if something goes wrong.

India wants to build more nuclear power plants in an attempt to reduce the share of coal in electricity generation. Increasing the use of nuclear power is also a part of the country’s strategy to tackle climate change.

India currently has 5,780 MW of nuclear power in operation and plans to add another 17,400 MW, making it possibly the largest market for nuclear power after China, and a financially lucrative prospect for Western firms faced with limited domestic sales.

However, the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster has heightened concerns about nuclear safety and accident costs. The fallout of that disaster will also make it hard to change India’s liability laws.

The US’ large settlements extend to corporate wrong-doing beyond its borders. Large settlements in the US are a regular feature. In October 2015, the Justice Department arrived at a settlement with oil major BP, which will pay a penalty of $20.8 billion to cover the economic and environmental damage arising from a 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Volkswagen could, in theory, face fines of as much as $37,500 per vehicle for each of two violations of the law; up to $3,750 per “defeat device”; and another $37,500 for each day of violation, a Reuters report said.

In April 2010, a deepwater oil-drilling rig operated by BP, the Deepwater Horizon, suffered an explosion which killed 11 men, and the well it was drilling leaked over five million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

This was the largest-ever settlement in the history of the Department; the Volkswagen penalty could be larger.

A number of companies have paid tens of billions of dollars in fines over the past decade for breaking US law.

Top US banks, such as Bank of America, JP Morgan, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, have paid multi-billion dollar fines for their roles in the 2008 global financial crisis, caused by reckless business practices of large Western banks.

The remit of the US Justice Department extends beyond its borders and to foreign firms as well. In May 2015, five global banks–- Citicorp, JP Morgan, Barclays, UBS and the Royal Bank of Scotland–agreed were to pay fines adding up to $2.5 billion, for manipulating a widely-used financial benchmark set in London. This brings the total penalty paid by these banks for their role in this manipulation to $9 billion.

UK-based HSBC was fined for “illegally conducting transactions on behalf of customers in Cuba, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Burma” –countries under US economic sanctions.

During the financial year 2015, the US justice department collected $23 billion in penalties in various civil and criminal cases, slightly lower than the collection for 2013, when it had a record haul. Indian firms were also fined in the US.

While the US nuclear industry wants to avoid any liability in India for acts of omission or commission, Indian companies have often been slapped with large fines for violations of US law.

Drug manufacturer Ranbaxy paid penalties of $500 million (Rs 3,400 crore) in 2013 for falsifying data about its drugs and for not following proper manufacturing practices- –more than twice the value of the nuclear liability insurance pool to be created in India.

In 2013, tech firm Infosys paid a $35 million penalty in a civil settlement on allegations of visa misuse; the firm maintained that the “claims are untrue and remain unproven”.

India, too, has started levying big fines. For instance, in 2013, a group of Indian cement companies was fined Rs 6,698 crore by the Competition Commission of India for working as a cartel and over-charging consumers. This amount, levied for unfair business practices rather than causing deaths and injuries, is 4.4 times the proposed liability cap for nuclear incidents.

Similarly, Delhi-based real estate firm DLF has been recently ordered to pay a penalty of Rs 630 crore for unfair business practices. (IANS/ IndiaSpend.org)