Efforts are underway to rid the country of mercury – a highly toxic chemical found in various common consumer products such as some skin-lightening creams, cosmetics and foods.
Four non-profit local organisations have join forces to phase out mercury which can cause harm to both human health and the environment.
The Marine Protected Areas Trust (MEPA), the Medical Association of Antigua and Barbuda (MAAB), the Christian Union Church (CUC), and Zero Waste Antigua and Barbuda (ZWAB) have all received funding from the Global Environment Facility’s small grants programme to implement the project being spearheaded by Nicola Bird, PhD, executive director of local body Integrated Health Outreach (IHO).
“Mercury is a ubiquitous element found in foods we eat, particularly larger species of fish and in everyday products that we use,” a release said.
“Various appliances, including fluorescent lightbulbs, batteries, thermometers, and light switches, as well as amalgam dental fillings, some skin-lightening creams and other cosmetics, contain mercury.
“Its negative health impacts cause damage to the central nervous system, thyroid, kidneys, lungs, immune system, eyes, gums, and skin.
“Persons may suffer memory loss or language impairment, and the damage to the brain cannot be reversed.”
Children, pregnant women, and women of child-bearing age are said to be particularly vulnerable.
In February 2017, the Antigua and Barbuda government signed on to the Minamata Convention, a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury.
Dr Linroy Christian is overseeing several initiatives to assist and working closely with the four organisations to create public awareness and bring the population on board.
Actions include urging the public to reduce consumption of those larger species of fish – such as marlin, shark, swordfish and tuna – that are more likely to be mercury contaminated.
To conserve endangered smaller fish, people are encouraged to eat invasive lionfish, which are low in mercury and wreaking havoc on Antigua and Barbuda’s marine life.
People are also advised to eliminate the use of mercury-added products and switch to using mercury-free LED lightbulbs, thermometers, blood pressure kits, and electrical switches. The National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) will launch a drive for the collection of used fluorescent bulbs, which release mercury if broken. The public will be asked to dispose of them in special bins at select locations to be announced.
The dangers of using mercury-added skin-lightening creams and other cosmetics are also being highlighted. The public is encouraged to thoroughly read labels and switch to safer, mercury-free products.
“Each person in Antigua and Barbuda can play a significant role in reducing the impact of mercury on their health and environment by making simple shifts in their behaviour,” the release said.
“Properly disposing of mercury-added products, reading labels, and making wiser, mercury-free choices in consumables, cosmetics and foods will all go a long way in reducing mercury contamination.”