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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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Dental amalgam PDF Print
Friday, 30 July 2010 17:02

Dental amalgam contains approximately 50% elemental mercury, 30% silver and 20% other metals such as copper, tin and zinc.

In 2005 approximately 240-300 tonnes of mercury were used as an ingredient in dental amalgam by dentists worldwide.

Some countries are taking a precautionary approach to protect the environment from the harmful effects of mercury and taking measures to reduce the use of mercury in dentistry.

 

Alternatives to mercury dental amalgam exist, such as composites (most common), glass ionomers and copolymers (modified composites). These are all effective alternatives that are generally considered more attractive than traditional amalgam.

 

Most dental practitioners continue to charge less for mercury amalgams than for the alternatives. The speed with which dental amalgams are being replaced varies widely, and mercury use is still significant in most countries.

 

Relevant legislation and advisories and NGO policy work

In the EU

Mercury in dental amalgam was relevant to two actions included in the 2005 EU Mercury Strategy. NGOs followed all relevant developments from 2005 - 2008. 

In 2011 the EU launched a study to carry out a full life-cycle assessment of the mercury us in dentistry- mainly looking at the environmental effects caused. The study is expected to be completed by spring 2012.

Relevant work and follow up by the NGOs can be found here.

The European Parliament resolution on the European Environment & Health Action Plan 2004-2010 - Article 6, declared that, consistent with the “opinion of the relevant Scientific Committee, urgent consideration should be given to restricting the marketing and/or the use of mercury used in dental amalgams

Further to above, a number of countries have put in place measures to reduce or even phase out the use of mercury in the dental sector. In addition to the use of amalgam separators to substantially reduce the amount of mercury discharges through wastewater from dental clinics (combined with appropriate service to maintain the effectiveness of these systems), some countries are also promoting the substitution of mercury-containing amalgam fillings, especially among sensitive populations including pregnant women, children and those with impaired kidney functions.

Denmark and Sweden maybe the only countries that have gone farthest in eliminating the use of mercury-containing amalgam. The Swedish Government’s overall goal to phase out mercury also includes dental amalgam. In Sweden, where dental amalgam has been subject primarily to voluntary phasing out measures, the consumption of mercury for dental use has decreased significantly after a policy decision by the Parliament in 1994 to phase out the use of dental amalgam.

In Denmark, dental amalgam is allowed only in molar teeth where the filling is subject to wear, but the Government is ready to ban the remaining use of dental amalgam as soon as the Danish National Board of Health is satisfied that the non-mercury alternatives are adequate for all requirements.

Norway has also developed a directive (from 1 January 2003) on the use of dental filling materials, which encourages dentists to reduce the use of amalgam as much as possible.

 

Globally

Work is currently being undertaken under the UNEP Mercury partnership area on Mercury in Products.

In the US

In 2006, EPA was developing a dental office amalgam recycling program called its “gray bag” program. This program would assist dentists in properly collecting and managing dental amalgam wastes generated in their offices to minimize mercury releases to air, land, and water. This program also will ensure that dental amalgam is sent to responsible recyclers who would ensure that it does not end up in wastewater streams as well as in municipal and medical waste incinerators.

In the US see also relevant laws and regulations at http://www.epa.gov/hg/regs.htm and at http://www.newmoa.org/prevention/mercury/modelleg.cfm

In New Zealand, a “Practice guideline - controlling dental amalgam waste and wastewater discharges” has been adopted. It recommended that amalgam waste should be collected, stored and sent for recycling, or for disposal at an approved landfill when collection for recycling is not available. Also, amalgam scrap and contaminated particulate amalgam waste should not be disposed of in any medical waste to be incinerated. Dental surgeries should use systems to reduce amalgam discharge to wastewater, including amalgam separators where local authorities require. It has issued precautionary advice for dentists and pregnant women. It recommended that amalgam should be used with informed consent of patients (UNEP, 2002).