MANILA -- The Philippines received from Taiwan equipment aimed to enhance the monitoring of mercury, which the World Health Organization (WHO) identified as among the chemicals of major public health concern.

The Taiwan government donated the equipment called mercury sampler, so the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) could better monitor and gather data on mercury levels in the country.

"We'll issue the corresponding policy directives if monitoring shows a significant rise in mercury levels," said DENR's air quality executive,
Jerry Capulong.

Capulong noted such directives would help strengthen the implementation of environmental regulations like the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990.

Scientists said mercury is found in air, water, and soil, has various industrial applications, and is present in fertilizers and pesticides.

According to WHO, however, mercury can adversely affect the nervous, digestive, and immune systems, as well as lungs, kidneys, skin, and eyes.

"Human exposure occurs mainly through inhalation of elemental mercury vapors during industrial processes and through consumption of
contaminated fish and shellfish," said WHO.

WHO noted mercury's various forms - elemental or metallic, inorganic and organic - have different toxic effects.

On Tuesday (March 6), Taiwan's Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) turned over to the DENR a mercury sampler unit.

"May this undertaking strengthen efforts to help enhance global mercury monitoring," DENR Environmental Management Bureau Assistant Director Vizminda Osorio said at the turn-over ceremony in Metro Manila.

She said such monitoring's results could be used in scientific studies and help promote global implementation of the Minamata Convention, the treaty to protect human health and the environment from mercury's adverse effects.

The Philippines signed that Convention in 2013 but has not yet ratified the treaty.

WHO said mercury releases in the environment are mainly due to operation of coal-fired power stations, residential heating systems, and waste incinerators, as well as mining of metals.

"Once in the environment, elemental mercury is naturally transformed into methylmercury that bioaccumulates in fish and shellfish," WHO
said.

Deputy Representative Minister James Chu from TECO said the Taiwan government had decided to donate the mercury sampler to help DENR better
protect the environment.

"Protecting the environment is everyone's responsibility," he said at the ceremony.

DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu thanked the Taiwan government for the donation, saying this equipment will improve information gathering on mercury in the country.

"Information we'll gather will definitely improve coordination of monitoring activities in the country and expand regional capabilities for assessing atmospheric mercury transport and deposition," DENR said in its statement covering the donation, citing Cimatu.

Capulong said results of the DENR's December 2017 air and water monitoring in Palawan province showed mercury levels there are still within tolerable limits.

"Mercury levels there are below standard," he said.


But he added the DENR must still intensify its monitoring nationwide, as activities like small-scale mining can raise mercury levels.

The mercury sampler from Taiwan could detect and collect rainwater, so this could be analyzed for mercury content, said Capulong.

He said the DENR would send the collected rainwater samples to Taiwan's National Central University for free analysis there.

The DENR is already studying where to locate the mercury sampler, he said.

Earlier, WHO recommended eliminating mercury production and use in mining and industry to prevent environmental releases of mercury and human exposure to the element.

WHO is also promoting the use of clean energy sources that do not rely on coal-burning.

Aside from mercury, WHO's list of chemicals and groups of chemicals that are of major public health concern includes arsenic, asbestos, benzene, cadmium, dioxin and dioxin-like substances, inadequate or excess fluoride, lead, highly hazardous pesticides and air pollutants. (PNA)