Better Late Than Never, Egypt Takes Control of Mercury Disposal

toxic waste, mercury, environmental hazards, pollution8 million fluorescent tubes are improperly disposed every year in Egypt, leaching dangerous levels of mercury into the environment. Finally, that seems set to change.

On the cards since 2007, Alexandria has finally opened up their first hazardous waste facility – mostly in order to manage mercury. Although many countries have attempted to limit the manufacture of products that contain mercury, Egypt still produces 40 million fluorescent tubes a year according to our friends at Almasry Alyoum. And nearly one quarter of them end up in landfills at best, or broken and spewing mercury at worst. After realizing how dangerous this unmanaged mercury is for the country’s fauna, flora, and people, in 2007 the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) teamed up with the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) in order to effect the Safe Disposal of Hazardous Waste Project. Nearly five years later, that collaboration has borne fruit.

With a little help from friends

KOICA, according to Almasry Alyoum, contributed $3 million to the Safe Disposal of Hazardous Waste Project, as well as the necessary training to Egyptian engineers in South Korea to ensure that the new facility operates safely.

The EEAA contributed 1/6th of the amount of money in order to see this project to fruition, but environmentalists are unconvinced that it will be successful.

Kareem Waleed from the Spirit of Youth, a Non Government Organization concerned with waste management, spoke to Almasry Alyoum:

The major concern with this initiative is how these tubes are going to be collected, stored and transported to the facilities in the first place… As of now, garbage collection systems are not even able to manage general waste, let alone segregate the garbage into hazardous and non-hazardous for efficient disposal.

What a waste

Although Alexandria is better off than Cairo thanks to assistance from Veolia, Egypt’s waste problems are numerous. Everything from agricultural waste, which contributes to the Black Cloud, to organic waste once managed by the Zabaleen’s pigs, overflows in rural areas and city streets.

Even so, the Environment Minister, Maged George, claims that his ministry has taken steps to improve the country’s overall waste management problems, while KOICA has promised to ensure that the facility in the Nasriya district is running smoothly before it withdraws its assistance.

Why mercury needs managing

The United States Environmental Protection Agency lists the hazards of mercury:

High exposures to inorganic mercury may result in damage to the gastrointestinal tract, the nervous system, and the kidneys. Both inorganic and organic mercury compounds are absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract and affect other systems via this route. However, organic mercury compounds are more readily absorbed via ingestion than inorganic mercury compounds.

Symptoms of high exposures to inorganic mercury include: skin rashes and dermatitis; mood swings; memory loss; mental disturbances; and muscle weakness. People concerned about their exposure to inorganic mercury should consult their physician.

It is particularly harmful to babies when mothers consume methyl mercury during pregnancy. Risks include a negative impact on cognitive thinking, memory, attention, and language, and even motor and visual spatial skills can be stunted.

Most people who are exposed to mercury by eating fish and shellfish that store it in their bodies. The bigger the fish, the higher the mercury concentrations since these animals consume a lot of smaller fish and the chemical accumulates since it is not excreted. Coal-burning power plants and chlorine production plants are an even more toxic source of what the World Health Organization considers an “occupational hazard.”

Not only is this the first such facility in Egypt, but it is the first to be built in the entire Middle Eastern/North African region!

:: Almasry Alyoum

More on hazardous and toxic waste in the Middle East:

A Classic Case of Whodunit Arises Over Toxic Waste in Lebanon

A Middle East Nuclear Boom Without Toxic Waste

Aussie Government Offers Uranium to the UAE

image via Steve Snodgrass

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