Mercury was used during the process of felt hat manufacturing in the 1800s. This era gave rise to the expression ‘mad as a hatter’ as workers showed symptoms such as confusion, difficulty talking and trembling as a result of mercury poisoning. Mercury is known to have a toxic effect on the nervous, digestive and immune systems and is one of the top ten chemicals of major public concern of the World Health Organization.
These days, mercury exposure most commonly occurs through consumption of contaminated fish and shellfish or inhalation during industrial processes. When released to the atmosphere, mercury can travel global distances and can persist as a gas for 6-12 months before being cycled between land and ocean ecosystems. Mercury bioaccumulates in fish and shellfish and biomagnifies as it moves up the food chain to large predatory fish, resulting in an increased toxic effect on people when consumed. There is ongoing research to understand the implications of environmental cycling of mercury in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere. Research findings will assist in the development of improved management practices regulating mercury emissions.
Australia is a signatory to the Minimata Convention on Mercury and Emissions to address the release of mercury throughout its lifecycle: mining, import and export, manufacture into products, emission and releases, contaminated sites, storage, waste management, recovery and reuse. Australia is expected to ratify the agreement soon, which is likely to result in additional regulatory requirements for the use of mercury on a national level for all industries.
Currently, regulations for pollution control in Australia fall under state and territory government jurisdiction, and there is considerable variation in the regulatory requirements of mercury across the country. The National Pollution Inventory (NPI) requires industries exceeding a minimum threshold limit to monitor and report emissions on an annual basis. NPI data provides opportunities for companies to benchmark emissions against similar industries, improve manufacturing processes and measure current environmental performance.
Monitoring emissions is vital for protecting the environment and the health of employees and the public. In particular, mercury monitoring is important to minimize the risk of exposure which may lead to adverse effects on both health and the environment.
“Mercury monitoring technology is essential for future planning, reducing employee and public risk and protecting the environment.”
Norditech Pty Ltd provides innovative solutions for all your mercury monitoring needs. Effective detection of mercury is key to achieve your work health and safety objectives and meet your compliance requirements. Give us a call for further information on 1300 572 872.
Published October 29, 2020
Minimata Convention on Mercury and Emissions: https://www.environment.gov.au/protection/publications/minamata-convention-mercury-emissions-fs
Paper on environmental cycling of mercury: https://www.mercury-australia.com.au/mercuryresearch/sources-chemical-evolution-and-transport-pathways-of-atmospheric-mercury/