The National – Thursday, February 17, 2011
NO proper policy and strategy exists in PNG to deal with highly toxic and radioactive substances such as cyanide, cobalt and mercury, Health S ecretary Dr Clement Malau said.
Cyanide, which is highly toxic is used in the extraction of minerals, especially gold in mining activities while mercury and cobalt are used for medicinal purposes.
Cobalt is especially radioactive and used in radiotherapy for treatment of cancer.
“Stakeholders and interest groups could meet to discuss on risk management and the importation of large quantities of substances that would be important to economic development but can also pose a risk to human health,” Malau said.
He said it was the Health’s Department intention to meet with the departments of mining and petroleum, environment and conservation and with relevant organisations in the private sector to assist in developing comprehensive policies to protect public against such substances.
“Cobalt is a source of nuclear energy and a large quantity of it is sitting in Lae to treat cancer. Managing it is very important due to the security threats radioactive substances pose to the community and the environment,” he said.
“It is a new area we are going into. The fact is we are introducing large quantities of elements of potential risks.
“We need to keep track of the quantity, know where they go, put in place effective risk management systems, and know where they are used.”
Malau met last week with experts from the United States and Australia where he discussed the use, import and export of radioactive substances.
He said the connection established with Harvard University’s school of public health in the US could assist in developing a public policy.
The Department of Health is responsible for regulation and import and export of radioactive substances.
Malau said the department had to step up to regulate dangerous substances that posed a threat to the public at large.
He said Papua New Guinea by now should have worked out a strategy to comply with international commitments and obligations as required by organisations such as International Atomic and Energy Agency on managing radioactive substances.
Experts from the US department of energy and Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) had been in the country since 2007 to ensure radioactive substance such as cobalt was properly managed and sustained.
The security of cobalt at Angau Memorial Hospital comes under the programme global threat reduction initiative sponsored by the US department of energy and ANSTO that ends next year.