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Colombia: workers at Havells Sylvania poisoned by mercury

11 February, 2016Workers at Havells Sylvania in Colombia held a protest march to pressure the lighting company into accepting responsibility for exposing them to toxic levels of mercury. 

The two-hour protest in front of the company offices in Barrio Olarte, Bogota, took place on 5 February. The demonstration saw participation from 18 trade unions including IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, SINTRAVIDRICOL, which represents workers at Havells Sylvania.

The workers say they are suffering from the effects of high levels of mercury contamination and irreversible harm to their health after being exposed to toxic mercury vapour for extended periods over the past 15 years. The company uses mercury in the manufacture of fluorescent light tubes.

“I suffer from headaches, depression, mood swings, muscular pains, involuntary movements in my right arm and fatigue. After one year and three months off work, the symptoms have still not gone away or diminished. On the contrary, I have been suffering from more side-effects,” explained Alvaro Cubillos, a company employee who is now in very poor health which he attributes to working with mercury.

According to the World Health Organization mercury is one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern. It may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems and on the lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes, as well as the development of babies in the womb. A recent study by Central University in Colombia concluded that the air and water in Bogota also contains mercury residue.

The workers decided to organize the march after receiving inadequate responses from government authorities about their plight.

IndustriALL projects coordinator in Colombia, Carlos Bustos, said:

Tired of having their rights ignored, they decided to hold a protest march and denounce the harm which they have been subjected to. They asked IndustriALL to come along and support their cause. IndustriALL will actively participate in the actions taken by the workers and invites all unions to extend their solidarity to them.