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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Mercury exposure has experts worried

Mercury exposure has experts worried

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THE World Health Organization has dismissed fears that people have been poisoned by mercury, despite scientific confirmation that the mercury readings from the waste are up to 20,000 times higher than safety standards.

Toxic metals experts and activists are worried that an all-clear has come too early.

Tests carried out by the National Institute for Minamata Disease on waste at the dump site revealed extraordinarily high levels of inorganic mercury - up to 3,984 parts per million (ppm). The recommended safety level is less than 0.2 ppm.

Yet Georg Petersen, director of the WHO in Cambodia, this week claimed that the waste "posed no immediate danger to the population of Sihanoukville".

"This type of mercury is not easily dissolved in water," he said at a public meeting in Sihanoukville January 2.

He also said blood and hair samples taken from port workers and soldiers involved in the cleanup did not show abnormal levels of mercury.

He admitted that urine tests on the same people showed higher levels but said that could be due to other factors.

However, an internationally established toxicologist and environmental health scientist, who is currently advising the NGO Legal Aid of Cambodia (LAC), said that blood and hair tests are not as indicative of inorganic mercury poisoning as urine tests.

The Sihanoukville dumping scandal has continued to attract attention from concerned parties around the world. The Basel Action Network, a group of activists dedicated to banning global waste trafficking, has already contacted the Ministry of Environment with a whole range of concerns, according to Jim Puckett, an activist with the group.

As of December 6, officials said the waste had been cleared and sealed into 5,950 barrels and 143 containers onsite.



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