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In advance of treaty adoption, hair testing shows worldwide exposure to mercury  


Wednesday 2 October 2013, Minamata, Japan--- Just prior to the adoption of a global treaty on mercury[i][i], a new Zero Mercury Working Group[ii][ii] report[iii][iii] highlights the importance of the treaty being ratified as soon as possible to reduce global pollution and exposure to mercury.  The treaty is expected be signed next week near Minamata, Japan, where a major mercury poisoning incident was first discovered in the 1950’s.[iv][iv] 

Civil society organizations from 9 countries – including Tokyo-based Citizens Against Chemicals Pollution – participated in the study in order to ascertain mercury hair levels in women of child bearing age and raise exposure reduction awareness.  The study revealed that women in several countries had higher mercury levels, in correlation with fish consumption. 

Nearly one-quarter (24%) of the samples exceeded the widely recognized U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guideline of 1 micrograms per gram.  In 4 of the countries, a high percentage of women exceeded the threshold, specifically:

  • 71% in Japan;
  • 64% in Spain;
  • 36%      in Mauritius; and
  • 23% in Côte d’Ivoire.

"The results indicate that the mercury hair levels in Japanese women were significantly higher than the other countries tested," said Dr. Takashi Yorifuji, Associate Professor at Okayama University Graduate School of Environmental and Life Science, Japan. "Risk of adverse health effects in children following in utero methylmercury exposures is well documented and rises as maternal exposure increases."

While most exposure studies have been conducted in developed countries, much less is known about exposures in other regions. 

“It’s imperative to expand capacity to assess exposure variations worldwide,” said Michael Bender, ZMWG International Coordinator.  “Hair testing lends itself well to citizen participation, as civil society has special access to local communities.  It can also be used to evaluate the Convention’s progress in reducing exposure.”

In addition to pregnant women, the report identified other populations at potential risk, including: 

  • populations exposed to local pollution sources;
  • coastal populations;
  • indigenous peoples;
  • fishing      communities; and
  • heavy fish      eaters.

The report notes that the situation from country to country is highly variable and seems to be affected by multiple factors, including amounts and types of fish consumed and family income.

“Governments should measure concentration of mercury in fish and issue advisories especially to protect pregnant women, children and those who eat large quantities of fish,” said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, EEB/ZMWG International Coordinator.




News from members:  NRDC has created a website intended as a resource for developing countries, NGOs and other stakeholders to assist in Convention ratification and implementation activities.  This website can be found at http://www.nrdc.org/international/ftoxic.asp.



 ZMWG Towards Early Ratification and Implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury


 - Minamata Convention on Mercury - Ratification and Implementation Manual, January 2015

-Convenio de Minamata sobre el Mercurio-Manual de ratificacion y aplicacion, January 2015

- Convention de Minamata sur le Mercure - Manuel de ratification et mise en oeuvre, January 2015

- ZMWG Action Challenge Interim Report, 27 October 2014

- Press Release 29 October 2014: ‘Zero Mercury’ Group: Governments Must Do More to Curb Supply and Trade; Gives governments ‘C-’ grade since mercury treaty approved

ZMWG attended INC 6 ,3-7 November 2014, Bangkok - for developments check here.

ZMWG Blog - Summary of the Mercury INC 6


The Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) is an international coalition of over 95 public interest environmental and health non-governmental organizations from more than 50 countries from around the world formed in 2005 by the European Environmental Bureau and the Mercury Policy Project.  ZMWG strives for zero supply, demand, and emissions of mercury from all anthropogenic sources, with the goal of reducing mercury in the global environment to a minimum.  Our mission is to advocate and support the adoption and implementation of a legally binding instrument which contains mandatory obligations to eliminate where feasible, and otherwise minimize, the global supply and trade of mercury, the global demand for mercury, anthropogenic releases of mercury to the environment, and human and wildlife exposure to mercury.(FR)

The Zero Mercury Working Group was born out of the Zero Mercury Campaign project having as its ultimate objective ‘Zero’ emissions, demand and supply of mercury, from all sources we can control, in view of reducing to a minimum, mercury in the environment at EU level and globally. The project/campaign started in November 2004, by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) in collaboration with the Mercury Policy Project . Details on the history of the project can be found here.

Mercury and its compounds are highly toxic to humans, especially to the developing nervous system. They are also harmful to ecosystems and wildlife populations. Microbial metabolism of deposited mercury can create methylmercury, which has the capacity to collect in organisms (bioaccumulate) and to concentrate up food chains (biomagnify), especially in the aquatic food chain. Methylmercury is a well documented neurotoxicant, which may in particular cause adverse effects on the developing brain. It readily passes both the placental barrier and the blood-brain barrier, therefore, exposures during pregnancy are of highest concern. It may also cause adverse effects on the cardiovascular system, thereby leading to increased mortality. Methylmercury compounds are considered possible carcinogenic to humans according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Furthermore, inhalation of elemental mercury vapour includes symptoms such as tremors, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular changes, and headaches. Kidney and thyroid may be affected.



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