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New treaty’s entry into force set to curtail global mercury crisis, say NGOs

BRUSSELS - 16 AUGUST 2017
TODAY’S ENTRY INTO FORCE OF THE MINAMATA CONVENTION ESTABLISHES THE FIRST NEW MULTILATERAL ENVIRONMENTAL AGREEMENT IN OVER A DECADE.  THE ZERO MERCURY WORKING GROUP* HAS BEEN CALLING FOR A LEGALLY BINDING TREATY FOR OVER A DECADE AND WELCOMES THE NEW PROTOCOL.

“While there are alternatives to mercury, there are no alternatives to global cooperation,” said Michael Bender, coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group. “Mercury respects no boundaries and exposes people everywhere”
“Only a global pact can curtail this dangerous neurotoxin.”

In October 2013 the convention text was adopted and signed by 128 countries, but would not take legal effect until at least 50 countries had ratified it formally.  This milestone was reached in May of this year, and the convention enters into force today 16 August. 

“We are now on the right track,” said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, Project Manager, European Environmental Bureau and ZMWG co- coordinator. 

“Over time, the Convention is expected to provide the necessary technical and financial resources to reduce the risk of exposure to mercury worldwide. Governments must therefore move swiftly towards efficient implementation of the Treaty’s provisions”.

The aim of the Convention is "to protect the human health and the environment” from mercury releases.

The treaty holds critical obligations for Parties to ban new primary mercury mines while phasing out existing ones and also includes a ban on many common products and processes using mercury, measures to control releases, and a requirement for national plans to reduce mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining.  In addition, it seeks to reduce trade, promote sound storage of mercury and its disposal, address contaminated sites and reduce exposure from this dangerous neurotoxin.

The First Conference of the Parties will take place from 24 to 29 September 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland.  Over 1,000 delegates and around 50 ministers are expected to assemble in Geneva to celebrate and lay the groundwork for the treaty’s overall effectiveness.

The Minamata Convention joins 3 other UN conventions seeking to reduce impacts from chemicals and waste – the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions.

ENDS 

For more information, see:

http://www.mercuryconvention.org/Negotiations/COP1/tabid/5544/language/en-US/Default.aspx

www.zeromercury.org

Contacts 

Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, Project Coordinator ‘Zero Mercury Campaign’, European Environmental Bureau, ZMWG International Coordinator
T: +32 2 2891301,  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " data-mce-href="mailto: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Michael Bender, ZMWG International Coordinator, T: +1 802 917 8222,   This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " data-mce-href="mailto: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Notes to the editors:

Mercury is a global pollutant that travels long distances. Its most toxic form – methylmercury - accumulates in large predatory fish and is taken up in our bodies through eating fish, with the worst impacts on babies in utero and small children. 

*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.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is Europe's largest network of environmental citizens’ organisations, standing for environmental justice, sustainable development and participatory democracy. Our experts work on climate change, biodiversity, circular economy, air, water, soil, chemical pollution, as well as policies on industry, energy, agriculture, product design and waste prevention. We are also active on overarching issues as sustainable development, good governance, participatory democracy and the rule of law in Europe and beyond.

We have over 140 members in over 30 countries.

EC register for interest representatives: Identification number 06798511314-27
International non-profit association - Association internationale sans but lucratif (AISBL)

 
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Mercury Fact sheet PDF Print
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Mercury Fact sheet
Mercury sources, uses and emissions(2)
Mercury exposure and effects

Mercury is highly toxic, causing damage to the nervous system at even relatively low levels of exposure. It is particularly harmful to the development of unborn children. It collects in human and animal bodies and can be concentrated through the food chain, especially in certain types of fish. The Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection has recommended that women who are breastfeeding or who are or might become pregnant should limit their consumption of large predatory fish, such as swordfish, shark, marlin, pike and tuna.

It is well known that mercury has no respect for national or regional boundaries, travelling long distances through the atmosphere, and has contaminated both the European and global food supplies at levels posing a significant risk to human health, according to the World Health Organisation, food safety authorities, medical and public health professionals around the world. Even the arctic, which has no sources of mercury pollution, is experiencing dangerous levels of contamination in its marine mammals and other species which are part of the food supply.

The chemistry of mercury and its forms in the environment(1)

Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and exists in different forms. In pure form it is known as “elemental” or “metallic” mercury (Hg(0) or Hg0). Mercury is rarely found in nature as the pure, liquid metal, but rather within compounds and inorganic salts. Mercury can be bound to other compounds as monovalent or divalent mercury (also expressed as Hg(I) and Hg(II) or Hg2+, respectively). Many inorganic and organic compounds of mercury can be formed from Hg(II).
Several forms of mercury occur naturally in the environment. The most common natural forms of mercury found in the environment are metallic mercury, mercuric sulphide, mercuric chloride, and methylmercury. Some micro-organisms and natural processes can change the mercury in the environment from one form to another.

Mercury is mined as mercuric sulphide (cinnabar ore). Through history, deposits of cinnabar have been the source ores for commercial mining of metallic mercury. The metallic form is most simply refined from mercuric sulphide ore by heating the ore to temperatures above 540º C. This vaporises the mercury in the ore, and the vapours are then captured and cooled to form the liquid metal mercury.
Elemental mercury is a shiny, silver-white metal that is a liquid at room temperature and is traditionally used in thermometers and some electrical switches. If not enclosed, at room temperature some of the metallic mercury will evaporate and form mercury vapours. Mercury vapours are colourless and odourless. The higher the temperature, the more vapours will be released from liquid metallic mercury. Some people who have breathed mercury vapours report a metallic taste in their mouths. Elemental mercury in the atmosphere can undergo transformation into inorganic mercury forms, providing a significant pathway for deposition of emitted elemental mercury.

Inorganic mercuric compounds include mercuric sulphide (HgS), mercuric oxide (HgO) and mercuric chloride (HgCl2). These mercury compounds are also called mercury salts. Most inorganic mercury compounds are white powders or crystals, except for mercuric sulphide, which is red and turns black after exposure to light. Some mercury salts (such as HgCl2) are sufficiently volatile to exist as an atmospheric gas. However, the water solubility and chemical reactivity of these inorganic (or divalent) mercury gases lead to much more rapid deposition from the atmosphere than for elemental mercury. This results in significantly shorter atmospheric lifetimes for these divalent mercury gases than for the elemental mercury gas.

When mercury combines with carbon, the compounds formed are called "organic" mercury compounds or organomercurials. There is a potentially large number of organic mercury compounds (such as methylmercury, dimethylmercury, phenylmercury, and ethylmercury); however, by far the most common organic mercury compound in the environment is methylmercury. Like the inorganic mercuric compounds, both methylmercury and phenylmercury exist as "salts" (for example, methylmercuric chloride or phenylmercuric acetate). When pure, most forms of methylmercury and phenylmercury are white crystalline solids. Dimethylmercury, however, is a colourless liquid.

The most common organic mercury compound that micro-organisms and natural processes generate from other forms is methylmercury. Methylmercury is of particular concern because it can build up (bioaccumulate and biomagnify) in many edible freshwater and saltwater fish and marine mammals to levels that are many thousands of times greater than levels in the surrounding water.

Being an element, mercury cannot be broken down or degraded into harmless substances. Mercury may change between different states and species in its cycle, but its simplest form is elemental mercury, which itself is harmful to humans and the environment. Once mercury has been liberated from either ores or from fossil fuel and mineral deposits hidden in the earth’s crust and released into the biosphere, it can be highly mobile, cycling between the earth’s surface and the atmosphere. The earth’s surface soils, water bodies and bottom sediments are thought to be the primary biospheric sinks for mercury.