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Ban On Toxic Mercury Looms In Sugar Cane Farm

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Federal authorities announced this month that Australia would soon ban mercury containing pesticides. Despite overwhelming evidence for over 60 years that mercury-containing pesticides in agriculture are dangerous, we are the last country in the world to ban them.

Mercury, even at low levels, is a poisonous element that can cause damage to the environment and human health. Mercury exposure in humans can cause kidney damage, neurodegenerative impairment, and delayed cognitive development in children.

The ban will stop approximately 5,280 kilograms each year of from entering the Australian environment. Australia has yet to ratify an International Treaty to Reduce Mercury Emissions from Other Sources, such as the Dental Industry and Coal-Fired Power Stations. This is our next challenge.

Mercury Disaster

Mercury was a popular pesticide for agriculture in the 1900s. Numerous poisonings followed. These include the 1971-72 Iraq grain disaster, in which grain seed with was import from Mexico. Although the seed not intend for human consumption but use by rural communities to make bread, 459 people were kill.

Most countries have since banned the use and production of mercury-based pesticides in crops. They were ban in Australia for most purposes, including turf farming, in 1995.

Shirtan, a fungicide containing mercury, was exempt by authorities despite this. It was restrict to sugarcane farming in Queensland and New South Wales, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory.

According to the sugarcane industry, Shirtan is use by about 80% of sugarcane growers to treat pineapple sett rot.

The approval of mercury-containing active ingredient in Shirtan’s methoxyethylmercuric chlorineide was revoke by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority this month. Alpha Chemicals, the manufacturer of the ingredient, request that the decision made.

Last week, Shirtan’s registration was cancel. It cannot be manufacture in Australia. However, existing supplies can still be sold to sugarcane farmers and use for the next year, until it is completely ban.

Nature And Workers At Risk

The environment has been expose to approximately 50,000 kilograms over the last 25 years due to Australia’s continued use Shirtan. It not known how this affects river and reef ecosystems.

It is well-known that mercury can cause cancer even in very low levels. Research require to determine its ecological effects.

Sugar cane workers are also at risk from mercury-based pesticides. The most at risk are those who don’t know how to handle toxic substances safely and have not been properly supervise. This risk is exacerbate when itinerant workers are use, especially those who speak a language other than English.

In the heat and humidity of Northern Australia, workers might have taken off protective gloves to prevent sweating. Research still need to establish the health implications of these practices.

Mercury Australia is a multidisciplinary network of researchers form to address environmental, health, and other issues related to mercury use.

Australia Has Yet To Ratify Mercury

The Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global treaty that controls mercury use and its release into the environment, is called the Minamata Convention on. Australia joined the convention in 2013, but has yet to ratify.

Australia is legally not bound by its obligations until the treaty has been ratified. This puts us in conflict with over 100 other countries, many of which are developed-nation counterparts. The table below shows Australia’s status as an outlier in this area:

Australia’s biggest source of emissions was from the use of pesticides containing. However, Australia would need to ratify the convention in order to regulate other sources of emission, such as dental amalgam, and coal-fired power stations. For example, the three active power plants in Latrobe Valley emit around 1,200 kilograms each year.