(SNO) — Saint Lucia is among four Caribbean islands which has done an inventory and assessment on the major sources of mercury contamination.
The island, together with Trinidad and Tobago, St. Kitts and Nevis and Jamaica, recently concluded a Minamata Initial Assessment (MIA) project, funded by the Global Environment Facility, that enabled them to identify their top mercury polluters.
The assessment represents a major step for the countries, all of which share the global concern over mercury contamination of the seafood chain.
The project’s execution officer, Tahlia Ali Shah, said public education on the issue is very important.
“When mercury is released it eventually enters the land or soil or waterways. It becomes a problem when it enters the waterways and it moves up the food chain. Mercury tends to bio-accumulate up the food chain,” she told IPS News.
She added that if people continue to eat larger predatory fish over a period of time, the levels of mercury in their body could increase.
Mercury poisoning can lead to physical and mental disability.
Reports indicate that presently no fish species consumed in the Caribbean has been flagged as a danger for mercury, however, Ali Shah said, “It is only after years of testing the fish and narrowing down the species that we will be able to better inform consumers in the Caribbean about which fish are safest to eat and give fish guidelines.”
In Saint Lucia, the main source of mercury contamination is consumer products, and the island took part in the MIA as a preliminary step.
Yasmin Jude, sustainable development and environment officer and the national project coordinator for St. Lucia’s assessment, said the island wants to be part of the mercury solution by ratifying the United Nation’s Minamata Convention on Mercury.
She said that Saint Lucia recognised “that the problem of mercury pollution is a global problem that cannot be addressed adequately without the cooperation of all countries and that our population and environment was not immune to the negative impacts of mercury, [so] we wanted to be a part of the solution by ratifying the Convention.”
She added, “However, it was important to us that the decision to do so was from an informed position regarding our national situation and in particular, capability to implement the obligations articulated in the Convention.”
She said the MIA helped Saint Lucia “to get information on the primary sources of Hg [mercury] releases and emissions in the country, as well as an appreciation of the gaps in the existing regulatory and institutional frameworks as it relates to the implementation of the country’s legal obligations under the Minamata Convention on Mercury.”
She told IPS by email that at this stage “it is premature” for St. Lucia to state what its goals are with regard to controlling mercury contamination or to give a timeline for reduction of mercury in the environment, but the government’s chief concern is to ensure “a safe and healthy environment for our people.”