GEORGE TOWN: The government must step up the monitoring of mercury use in view of recent accidents making the news, the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) said.
CAP President S M Mohamed Idris said a nationwide situation analysis was needed to arrest the problem from spreading.
In a statement today, he said an inventory on mercury use, storage and environmental emissions into the air, water and land also needed to be done.
Idris said the mercury find at an oil palm plantation in Butterworth raised concerns about illegal use.
He said there could be illegal storage or dumping of mercury or mercury waste.
“The authorities responsible must take stock of the situation and draw up an appropriate action plan to address the issue.”
Idris also called for a mercury awareness programme, as many children assumed the liquid substance was safe to play with.
“We urge the Malaysian Government to publicly disclose the measures being taken to protect public health and the environment from the toxic effects of mercury.”
Malaysia was a signatory to the Minamata Convention on Mercury on Sept 24, 2014.
These provisions relate to controls wherever mercury is used, released or emitted.
It also addresses the export and import of mercury, its safe storage and its disposal.
On Thursday, 56 students of Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Guar Perahu, Bukit Mertajam, were quarantined after a mercury spillage in their classroom.
Today, 16 residents of Kampung Baru, Butterworth, were rushed to hospital today for suspected mercury poisoning.
The 16, from six houses, were sent to the Bukit Mertajam Hospital after a mercury spillage occurred at their houses today.
Mercury is deemed extremely toxic. It can be found in thermometers and some fluorescent light bulbs.
The mercury was brought to the houses by the children of the occupants, who found it near their homes.
Tasek Gelugor Fire and Rescue Department Station Chief Muhammad Hayazi Taib told The Star that several SMK Guar Perahu students had obtained the mercury from an abandoned water meter room in the plantation.
“They told us that they were in the room taking shelter from the rain when they stumbled upon the silvery liquid on the ground.
“They then collected about 300ml of it and took it to the school in a plastic bag to show their friends on Wednesday.
“We do not know what they did to cause the mercury to spill in two classrooms on the third floor of the school building.”
Ten of the 16 people sent to hospital were said to be family members of the six students.
The report said mercury can be absorbed into the body via skin absorption, inhalation and ingestion.
Once in the human body, mercury acts as a neurotoxin, interfering with the brain and nervous system.