Antigua’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Barbuda Affairs Colin O’Keiffe addressed the National Results Validation Workshop held today (Fri) to share the findings of research conducted under a project assessing mercury management in the Caribbean.

The National Inception Workshop for the Development of the Minamata Initial Assessment (MIA) in the Caribbean was held last year and so key national stakeholders were presented with the results and findings of the MIA Project in Antigua and Barbuda at the workshop today.

Mercury is a highly toxic element which is considered a major public health concern by the World Health Organsation.

P.S O’Keiffe underscored the importance of such a project.

“We all have a significant role to play as we seek to develop a set of reliable and dependable data for informed decision making. At this point, very little data are available not only in Antigua and Barbuda but at least throughout the OECS, due to little or no routine data collection, compilation and analysis regarding mercury emissions and releases.”

P.S O’Keiffe continued, “we are anticipating that with kind of assistance, we can build a useful data base and this would enable our department of analytical services to be a hub for the Caribbean mercury monitoring network. A partnership with Biodiversity Research Institute is anticipated in the near future to realize this goal of improving the global data set by providing data from the Caribbean.”

The MIA project will also address the need for a long term strategy for the management of Antigua and Barbuda’s obligations under the Minamatar convention.

Dr. David Evers from Biodiversity Research Institute, said that he was happy to see that there is finally a mercury inventory for Antigua and Barbuda. The inventory covers mercury levels in fish, human hair and skin lightening cream.

“The inventory shows how much mercury is in the country and how it’s being released into the air , the land and the water. There is very good interaction here with the different individuals and stake holders in providing even more information and maybe refining the inventory; that’s what these workshops are for.”

Dr Evers said that the general results indicate that Antigua and Barbuda has one of the lowest mercury inventories in any country that he has worked in the world which totals 27 countries. He said that’s a good thing but this does not mean that they are not some problem areas.

He said a look was also taken at mercury in fish and the good is that most fish are very safe to eat in Antigua and Barbuda

Director of Analytical Servicesand Chairman of the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board, Dr. Linroy Christian said that a lot has been done but there is still much more to cover.

“I think we have identified so far that there are some significant gaps in the data and we have to work with these institutions to get additional information and also for us to have this strategy going forward of how we collect and maintain data and how we use  that data to make a decision.”

He said that the dental sector, contributions from burning waste, the health sector, consumer products and the cosmetics sector are gaps that more emphasis must be placed.

He said that the project has brought a major issue to light concerning data collection.

“Data is not collected in a manner consistently by different agencies so that you can utilize that data fully; so there are a lot of assumptions that have to be made and this is the nature of this initial exercise. We are using a toolkit to make these estimates and then we have to highlight where we have to collect some hard data that might have to be done through laboratory analysis because that is the ultimate goal where the lab would get into its routine analysis of products, even bio-data from humans’ environmental samples.”

He continued, “from the human hair data, I think we are looking at close to 50% of some of these samples that are just about at that threshold level and the fish data is showing several species like the barracuda and marlin that have high levels of mercury, but the sample sizes are still low, so we have to collect a bit more data.

Dr Christian said with regards to the skin lightening creams, he said that there are one of two samples that were alarming in terms of the high level of mercury found.

He was quick to add however that there is a lot more data to be collected there but there definitely is a concern but national legislation must be in place to back up any action that has to be made.

“This is not a chemical that you would want at high levels in any product and therefore for something that is being used as a cosmetics, you have to be very careful in that respect but again more samples are required to get a view of the landscape with respect to the range of products, the brands, where it is coming from, how is mercury is used in such products and to look at how we are going to do any restriction on such a product.”

Among other experts addressing today’s workshop were Joanna Archibald, National Project Coordinator, Judy Daniel from Environmental Advisors Inc and BCRC Caribbean Laura Teixeira.