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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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Pesticides PDF Print

One of the major uses of mercury compounds as biocides was as seed dressing. These uses have been discontinued or banned in many countries (UNEP, 2002). In the formerSoviet Unionthe production of organomercurial pesticides was initiated in 1955 with a production that reached 200 metric tons/year by 1960. The main compound used was ethyl mercury chloride, but 14 different compounds are known to have used as pesticides in the country. Production of organomercurial pesticides in theRussian Federationhas ceased, but it is estimated that in recent years 20-40 metric tons has annually been used from stocks (Lassen et al., 2004).

A station for collecting of mercurial waste in the town ofKarpogoryhas been established by the Norwegian Climate and Pollution Agency in cooperation with the regional authorities inArkhangelsk. As part of the project, the Russian partners have organized an information campaign for schools, colleges and kindergardens. Pollution from the dangerous metal has for many years been a serious problem in Arkhangelsk Oblast.

InAustralia, a liquid fungicide product containing methoxy-ethyl mercuric chloride is used to control pineapple disease in sugarcane sett (UNEP, 2002). InIndiathe use of organomercurial pesticides in 1999-2000 reported by the Directorate of Plant Protection was 85 metric tons, although production seems to have ceased (Wankhade, 2003). Formerly a number of mercury-based pesticides were used inIndia, but today most are banned.

Unused product, including stocks of obsolete pesticides, may be lost or disposed of with normal waste or through special disposal programs.

Relevant legislation and NGO policy work

 The sale and use of pesticides containing mercury for plant protection purposes, and as a seed dressing, have been severely restricted or prohibited/discontinued in a large number of countries throughout the world, although certain limited uses remain in some countries.

In the EU

 In the EU, the sale and use of pesticides based on mercury compounds for plant protection are prohibited by Directive 79/117/EEU and its amendments. This also applies to seed treatment. On the other hand, the export of such preparations to countries outside the European Community is not specifically prohibited by the Directive.

Globally

Lesotho reported that two mercury-based pesticides, used as a dip for potatoes and as a seed dressing for seed-borne diseases in grain crops, have been discontinued. InColombia, registration of fungicides based on mercury compounds for agricultural use has been cancelled; presently, no registration is active for any mercury-based pesticide (UNEP, 2002).

For the US information is provided at http://www.epa.gov/hg/regs.htm, at http://www.epa.gov/hg/consumer.htm#bat and at http://www.newmoa.org/prevention/mercury/modelleg.cfm