25 February 2003 15:12 [Source: ICIS news]
BRUSSELS (CNI)--Europe faces a mercury crisis which could threaten the environment and health, Mark Koene from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and the Society for Nature and Environment in the Netherlands warned on Tuesday.
Koene said the influx of between 12 000 - 15 000 tonne of mercury onto the European market before 2008, due to the phase out of the mercury cell process in the chloralkali industry, will disrupt the sector and stimulate unsustainable prices.
He said the chlorine industry’s solution to its problem [of excess mercury] would be to sell it onto the world market, which would mean that the "worst outcome for environment and health is about to come true".
Koene, who was speaking here at Euro Chlor's 'Lightening chlorine's footprint - steps to sustanability' conference*, warned: "Prices will drop and mercury will stay a viable option for all sorts of unsustainable use worldwide."
According to Koene, the only sustainable solution would be to introduce legislation requiring the permanent storage of mercury, the establishment of marketing restrictions for the secondary mercury market and an end to primary production. Secondary mercury is that which can be re-used after the chlor-alkali process.
"These solutions would make mercury prices rise and many applications would become unattractive," Koene said.
He accused the chloralkali industry of refusing to face up to sustainability problems and rejecting responsibility for its past choices, such as its decision to use mercury in chlor-alkali production.
Koene appealed for stricter regulations and financial pressures, which he said are needed to change the course of the industry.
"To bring change you need a strategy and we do not expect this change to come from the industry alone. The European Union (EU) must take the lead," he said.
"The industry can survive the change if it co-operates and looks for new business opportunities."
Koene also outlined sustainability problems relating to the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) industry such as dangerous additives, waste treatment problems and the disruption of plastics recycling.
He believes the social need for PVC is very limited and derided the chlorine industry’s denial of problems. There is continued production of all PVC applications, the introduction of new PVC products, further development of PVC capacity in Europe and lobbying against any restrictions, he illustrated.
Problems also existed with chlorinated solvents, according to Koene. He claimed that chlorinated solvents are a probable carcinogen with possible reproductive hazards as well as being hazardous for workers and consumers.
Koene slammed the chlorine industry’s response to the problem in claims that it can test the carcinogenity of the solvents, continue marketing without mention of the hazards and its lobbying against restrictions.
He said the sustainable answer would be a phase-out programme of chlorinated solvents and PVC plus the substitution of chlorine solvents by other, chlorine-free solvents or techniques. A clear and strict government policy is the way to bring this about, he argued.
In addition, Koene claimed that the shift from chlorinated products to other alternatives would minimise job losses and lead to a healthier and safer environment.
*The Euro Chlor conference began yesterday and concludes today.
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