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As new global mercury treaty enters into force, worldwide mercury production skyrockets, 
notes Global NGO Coalition on World Environmental Health Day

Geneva, 26 September 2017- As 156 countries convened for the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention, 
a new UN report shows mercury mining skyrocketing in the last 5 years. Moreover, much of that mercury is used in artisanal and 
small scale gold mining (ASGM), the largest source of global mercury pollution.

Currently, countries do not have reliable information about trade in neighboring countries and within their own region. 
This problem is compounded where borders between countries are “porous,” and a significant portion of trade is informal or illegal. 
For example, mercury may enter a region through legal trade to one country, but then be traded illegally across borders to neighboring countries. 

“Informal trade is difficult to track, and therefore does not appear in the official trade statistics,” said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, 
Project Manager, Zero Mercury Campaign at the European Environmental Bureau. 
“With timely reporting, Parties can better understand mercury flows in order to better enforce trade restrictions in the Convention.”

“In recent years there have been a number of shocks to the global market, resulting in a doubling of the price of mercury in the last 12 months alone,” 
said Michael Bender, Co-coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group. “In addition, EU and US export bans now in place have resulted 
in a major shift in the main trading hub to Asia.”

“The emergence over the past five years of new small-scale producers of mercury in Mexico and Indonesia has made a difficult situation worse,” 
said Satish Sinha, Associate Director at Toxics Link in India. “Between these two countries alone, around 1000 tonnes are produced annually.”

“The main objective of the Minamata Convention is to protect human health and the environment by, in part, simultaneously 
reducing mercury supply and demand,” said  Rico Euripidou, Environmental Health Campaign Manager at groundWork 
in South Africa. Without adequate reporting on the global movement of mercury it will 
be difficult to monitor the overall effectiveness of the Convention, say NGOs.

“Annual reporting is consistent with the requirements of other environmental conventions such as Basel and the Montreal Protocol,” 
said Leslie Adogame, Executive Director at Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development in Nigeria.
“Legal trade flows must be understood before informal or illegal trade can be adequately addressed.”

An analysis of publicly available UN COMTRADE data over the period 2013-2016 (see below) reveals that the majority of global mercury flows 
from commodity trading centres (such as Hong Kong, Singapore and the UAE) to developing country regions (such as Africa and Latin America) 
where mercury use in ASGM is prolific in response to the largest global gold rush the world has ever seen. 

see table at the pdf

see also PR in FR 

Notes to the editor

http://www.mercuryconvention.org/

 https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/21725/global_mercury.pdf?sequence=1&;;isAllowed=y

http://www.ifeh.org/wehd/

www.zeromercury.org

For further information, please contact:                                         

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 " target="_blank"> 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 ">  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " target="_blank"> 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 " target="_blank"> 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 ">  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " target="_blank"> 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

David Lennett, Natural Resources Defense Council, T:  +1 202 460 8517    This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " target="_blank"> 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 "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " target="_blank"> 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

*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.

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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.