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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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Cosmetics, Soaps and creams PDF Print
Friday, 30 July 2010 16:56

Skin-lighteners are sold as creams, lotions and soaps. Hundreds if not thousands of them are available in the global market. Those that use mercury as an active ingredient often contain from 2 to 10 percent mercury by weight.  Products tested in a variety of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and North America have contained from 660 to 57,000 parts per million (ppm) mercury. Unfortunately, the most effective ingredients, which include mercury compounds and hydroquinone, are also the cheapest, and that induces many manufacturers to use them in products, despite their well documented toxic hazards.

 

Relevant legislation and NGO policy work

Legislation exists in many countries limiting or prohibiting mercury in cosmetic products.

In the EU

According to Directive76/768/EEU (and its amendments 2000/6/EU and 2000/11/EC) relating to cosmetic products, mercury and its compounds may not be present as ingredients in cosmetics, including soaps, lotions, shampoos, skin bleaching products, etc. (except for phenyl mercuric salts as a preservative in eye make-up, and in products for removal of eye make-up, in concentrations not exceeding 0.007 percent by weight) that are marketed within the European Community.

Mercury in cosmetics is also covered through legislation relevant to Trade of Dangerous Chemicals. The production (e.g. for export) in the EU of mercury containing cosmetics was also banned in 2003 under Annex 5 of the EU Regulation 689/2008 implementing the Rotterdam Convention.

Globally

 A project is currently (Jan-March 2011) being carried out in EECCA region, from the ZMWG via their partners AWHHE (Armenia), GEBMA(Georgia) and  Center for environmental solutions (CES) (Belarus). More details can be found here.

In Cameroon, an Inter-Ministerial Order bans the importation, marketing and use of cosmetic products containing more than 2 percent mercury. Under this order, twelve soaps and thirteen creams were banned (UNEP, 2002).

In the US see relevant laws and regulations.

The ZMWG has also been providing input on this issue at the global negotiations towards a robust mercury treaty. See the ZMWG fact sheet on skin creams