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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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Steel Production PDF Print
Friday, 23 September 2011 15:39

Steel production

Mercury may be emitted from various locations in an integrated iron and steel facility, including the sinter plant, the blast furnace that produce iron, the basic oxygen process (BOP) furnaces that produce steel, among others. The major pathway for mercury releases is via air, and to a lesser extent in wastes/residues. The most relevant environmental issues with regard to the sinter plant are the off-gas emissions from the sinter strand, which contains a wide range of pollutants such as dust, heavy metals, SO2, HCl, HF, PAHs and organochlorine compounds.

According to Berndt (2003), the mercury that is emitted to the air from the sintering process is predominantly in elemental form. A study conducted at one of the plants inMinnesotaindicated that an average of 93.3% of mercury emissions were in Hg(0) form, with almost all of the remainder emitted as oxidized mercury Hg(II) (HTC, 2000).

ESP reduces particulate matter concentrations with an efficiency of >95%. In some cases efficiency of 99% is achievable. Operational data for sinter plants are in the range of 20 to 160 mg/Nm3. Emission values for MEEP and ESCS may achieve < 40 mg/Nm3. ESP with energy pulse superimposition may achieve 20 to 30 mg/Nm3 according to BREF Iron & Steel (2001). Moreover, electrostatic precipitators can be installed at both new and existing plants.

 Relevant legislation and NGO policy work

In the EU

 The industrial activity of Iron and Steel Industries is covered under the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive (96/61/EC).

The IPPC has been in place since 1996. The Commission has undertaken a 2 year review to examine how the legislation on industrial emissions could be improved. As a result, the Commission adopted on 21 December 2007 a Proposal for a Directive on industrial emissions recasting seven existing Directives (the IPPC Directive and six sectoral Directives) into a single legislative instrument. Following the co-decision process on this Proposal, the  Industrial Emissions Directive 2010/75/EU (IED) has been adopted on 24 November 2010 and published in the Official Journal on 17 December 2010. It has entered into force on 6 January 2011 and has to be transposed into national legislation by Member States by 7 January 2013.

IPPC and now IED sets out the main principles for the permitting and control of installations based on an integrated approach and the application of best available techniques (BAT) which are the most effective techniques to achieve a high level of environmental protection, taking into account the costs and benefits. For more information on the directive please visit the EC website.

The benchmarks or criteria on which BAT relies are described in the BAT Reference Documents (BREFs). The first Iron and Steel BREF was adopted in 2001. It is currently under review - latest draft available can be found here.

Through the implementation of the IED, the role of the BREFs will be strengthened. After a BREF is completed, it should be subject to BAT conclusions that are adopted through a comitology decision (implementing act). The right of initiative however rests with the Commission. BAT conclusions contain parts of the BREF, their description, information on applicability, including BAT Associated Emission Levels (BATAELs) for different pollutants (meaning emission levels that can be achieved for a pollutant if the industry is implementing BAT) as well as associated consumption levels and monitoring. It may also include site remediation measures “where appropriate”. Within 4 years after publication of the comitology decision on the relevant BAT conclusions, local authorities should review and update  all the permits to the respective industries in order to make sure the industrial activity operates according to the requirements set out in the BAT conclusions. The provision in the IED requires that Emission Limit Values (ELVs) for pollutants set out in the permit should not exceed the relevant BATAEL.  However the permit writer may derogate in specific cases and set higher ELVs under certain conditions. An assessment needs to demonstrate that the application of the BATAEL would lead to disproportionate higher costs compared to the benefits due to the local conditions (technical characteristics of the plants, or geographical location or local environmental conditions). In any case no significant pollution may be caused and a high level of protection of the environment as a whole is achieved. Environmental Quality Standards also need to be respected. These derogations are subject to public participation and scrutiny by the public concerned, which includes NGOs.

 Globally

For the US see relevant pieces of laws and regulations at http://www.epa.gov/hg/regs.htm#regs

On April 22, 2004, EPA issued a regulation to control emissions from iron and steel foundries. The rule included emission limits for manufacturing processes and pollution prevention-based requirements to reduce air toxics from furnace charge materials and coating/binder formulations. The rule also included a work practice requirement to ensure removal of auto mercury switches from scrap.