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Press Release

For immediate release, February 8th ,2016

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New Commission proposal puts EU on path from hero to zero to address global mercury crisis

Brussels, 8 February 2016 – The European Commission has quietly launched its new mercury package on 2nd February 2016 [1], moving the EU a step closer towards ratifying the Minamata Convention, a UN treaty to stamp out mercury [2]. While the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) welcomes the new package, its content fails to meet even the lowest of expectations.

We are deeply disappointed with this bare-bones proposal from the Commission,” said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, Zero Mercury Campaign Project Manager.  “Under the guise of Better Regulation, it is putting the EU on an embarrassing path from hero to zero in addressing the global mercury crisis.  The proposal effectively ignores a public consultation, progressive industry voices, and even the scientific findings of its own impact assessment.”

The package sets out plans to update existing EU law in line with the internationally-agreed goals to limit mercury supply, use and emissions under the treaty. Despite the EU having played a leading role in the formation of the Convention, the new plan to put it into practice appears to have fallen victim to the EU’s Better Regulation agenda. The package was already delayed by over a year – pushing back the UN treaty ratification process [3] – and ambition is thin on the ground.

The new proposals follow the lowest-cost approach across the board rather than promoting higher environmental protection, according to the EEB. Elsewhere, other ‘new’ proposals are simply repackaged existing EU legislation, and some of the treaty requirements seem not to be covered by the proposal at all.

Mercury and its compounds are highly toxic to humans, especially to the developing nervous system. Mercury transforms to neurotoxic methylmercury, which has the capacity to collect in organisms (bioaccumulate) and to concentrate up food chains (biomagnify), especially in the aquatic food chain – fish, the basic food source for millions of people.

Recent studies indicate that mercury levels are increasing in tuna by 4% per year, correlating with the continuing rise in mercury in the global environment. If steps are not taken to reduce global mercury pollution, levels of mercury are expected to double by 2050 [4]. 

The EEB will now be calling on the European Parliament and Member States to recognise the gravity of the situation and adopt measures that will reduce and eliminate all unnecessary uses and releases of mercury.

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For more information, please contact:

Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, Zero Mercury Campaign Project Manager, +32 (2) 289 13 01, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Paul Hallows, Communications Officer, +32 (2) 790 88 17, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Notes to editors:

[1] Ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury by the EU

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/mercury/ratification_en.htm

[2] The Minimata Convention on Mercury http://www.mercuryconvention.org

To meet the Convention requirements, six areas are identified which need additional legislation at the EU level:

  • The import of mercury

  • The export of certain mercury added products

  • The use of mercury in certain manufacturing processes

  • New mercury uses in product and manufacturing processes

  • Mercury use in artisanal and small scale gold mining (ASGM)

  • Mercury use in dental amalgams

[3] NGOs Letter to the European Commission - The EU and its Member States should rapidly ratify the Minamata Convention on mercury, 14 December 2015

http://www.zeromercury.org/index.php?option=com_phocadownload&;view=file&id=199:the-european-union-eu-and-its-member-states-ms-should-rapidly-ratify-the&Itemid=15

[4] Over the past year, it has become more apparent than ever that the global mercury crisis is affecting the food we eat.  Mercury concentrations in tuna are increasing at a rate of 3.8 percent or more per year, according to a new study that suggests rising atmospheric levels of the toxin are to blame. This correlates with recent studies showing that mercury levels in the global environment are set to double by 2050, if current pollution and deposition rates continue. More information: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150202151217.htm

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Batteries PDF Print

Manufacturers around the world have long used mercury in batteries to prevent the buildup of hydrogen gas, which can cause the battery to bulge and leak.

Button Cell Batteries:

Button cell batteries are miniature batteries in the shape of a coin or button that are used to provide power for small portable electronic devices.  The four major technologies used for miniature batteries are: lithium, zinc air, alkaline, and silver oxide.  Button cell batteries can contain 0-25 mg of mercury (and sometimes more). Lithium miniature batteries contain no intentionally-added mercury.  However, small amounts of mercury are still added to most zinc air, alkaline and silver oxide miniature batteries in order to prevent the formation of internal gases that can cause leakage.  Zinc air batteries are used mainly in hearing aids; silver oxide batteries are used in watches and cameras; and alkaline manganese batteries are used in digital thermometers, calculators, toys and a myriad of other products requiring a compact power source.

Mercuric Oxide Batteries:

In mercuric oxide batteries, mercury is used as an electrode rather than an additive to control gas buildup. These are rather specialty batteries and are often used in hospitals, military facilities and commercial applications.. Those can use more than 25 mg of mercury. The mercury accounts for up to 40% of the battery weight and cannot be reduced without reducing the energy output of the battery. Mercuric oxide button cells once were widely used in hearing aids but now are prohibited in most countries. Larger mercuric oxide batteries still are produced for military and medical equipment where a stable current and long service life is essential.

Separate collection systems for batteries are in place in many countries around the world.

However, there are still problems in collection, which can be resolved mainly through political support for mercury-free batteries.

 

Relevant legislation and NGO policy work on batteries:

In Europe

Directive 2006/66/EC on batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators,  in the EU, set maximum mercury limits for alkaline and button cell batteries, and prohibit the marketing of mercury oxide batteries, although there may still be significant quantities of the latter that transit the EU in trade flows.

                            2012 - Study on potential for reducing mercury pollution from batteries

 After also our continuous pressure, the EC  decided talso carry out a study on the batteries – and more specifically the potential phase out of button cell batteries containing mercury, as part of the revised EU mercury strategy.To that end the consultant BIOS who is carrying out the study on dental amalgam was asked to also look at the battery issue.

A draft report is expected to be published soon. A stakeholder meeting is also expected to take place in March 2012 - the draft report will be presented, stakeholders will give input, and after that the consultant will have to put together the final report.

Globally

 In the US

In the US, federal legislation exists on the Management of batteries - In 1996, the U.S. Congress passed the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act (9 pp, 134K, about PDF) and many states passed legislation prohibiting incineration and landfilling of mercury-containing and lead-acid batteries

In terms of regulating mercury content in batteries some US states have passed relevant Bills. For more information visit