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As new global mercury treaty enters into force, worldwide mercury production skyrockets, 
notes Global NGO Coalition on World Environmental Health Day

Geneva, 26 September 2017- As 156 countries convened for the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention, 
a new UN report shows mercury mining skyrocketing in the last 5 years. Moreover, much of that mercury is used in artisanal and 
small scale gold mining (ASGM), the largest source of global mercury pollution.

Currently, countries do not have reliable information about trade in neighboring countries and within their own region. 
This problem is compounded where borders between countries are “porous,” and a significant portion of trade is informal or illegal. 
For example, mercury may enter a region through legal trade to one country, but then be traded illegally across borders to neighboring countries. 

“Informal trade is difficult to track, and therefore does not appear in the official trade statistics,” said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, 
Project Manager, Zero Mercury Campaign at the European Environmental Bureau. 
“With timely reporting, Parties can better understand mercury flows in order to better enforce trade restrictions in the Convention.”

“In recent years there have been a number of shocks to the global market, resulting in a doubling of the price of mercury in the last 12 months alone,” 
said Michael Bender, Co-coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group. “In addition, EU and US export bans now in place have resulted 
in a major shift in the main trading hub to Asia.”

“The emergence over the past five years of new small-scale producers of mercury in Mexico and Indonesia has made a difficult situation worse,” 
said Satish Sinha, Associate Director at Toxics Link in India. “Between these two countries alone, around 1000 tonnes are produced annually.”

“The main objective of the Minamata Convention is to protect human health and the environment by, in part, simultaneously 
reducing mercury supply and demand,” said  Rico Euripidou, Environmental Health Campaign Manager at groundWork 
in South Africa. Without adequate reporting on the global movement of mercury it will 
be difficult to monitor the overall effectiveness of the Convention, say NGOs.

“Annual reporting is consistent with the requirements of other environmental conventions such as Basel and the Montreal Protocol,” 
said Leslie Adogame, Executive Director at Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development in Nigeria.
“Legal trade flows must be understood before informal or illegal trade can be adequately addressed.”

An analysis of publicly available UN COMTRADE data over the period 2013-2016 (see below) reveals that the majority of global mercury flows 
from commodity trading centres (such as Hong Kong, Singapore and the UAE) to developing country regions (such as Africa and Latin America) 
where mercury use in ASGM is prolific in response to the largest global gold rush the world has ever seen. 

see table at the pdf

see also PR in FR 

Notes to the editor

http://www.mercuryconvention.org/

 https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/21725/global_mercury.pdf?sequence=1&;;isAllowed=y

http://www.ifeh.org/wehd/

www.zeromercury.org

For further information, please contact:                                         

Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, Project Coordinator ‘Zero Mercury Campaign’, European Environmental Bureau, ZMWG International Coordinator
T: +32 2 2891301,   This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " target="_blank"> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " data-mce-href="mailto: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ">  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " target="_blank"> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " data-mce-href="mailto: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Michael Bender, ZMWG International Coordinator, T: +1 802 917 8222,    This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " target="_blank"> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " data-mce-href="mailto: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ">  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " target="_blank"> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " data-mce-href="mailto: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

David Lennett, Natural Resources Defense Council, T:  +1 202 460 8517    This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " target="_blank"> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " data-mce-href="mailto: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " target="_blank"> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " data-mce-href="mailto: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

*The Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) is an international coalition of over 95 public interest environmental and health non-governmental organizations from more than 50 countries from around the world formed in 2005 by the European Environmental Bureau and the Mercury Policy Project.  ZMWG strives for zero supply, demand, and emissions of mercury from all anthropogenic sources, with the goal of reducing mercury in the global environment to a minimum.  Our mission is to advocate and support the adoption and implementation of a legally binding instrument which contains mandatory obligations to eliminate where feasible, and otherwise minimize, the global supply and trade of mercury, the global demand for mercury, anthropogenic releases of mercury to the environment, and human and wildlife exposure to mercury.

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Mercury exposure and effects

Mercury exposure and effects

Mercury and its compounds are highly toxic to humans, ecosystems and wildlife. High doses can be fatal to humans, but even relatively low doses can have serious adverse neurodevelopmental impacts, and have recently been linked with possible harmful effects on the cardiovascular, immune and reproductive systems.(3)

The toxicity of mercury depends on its chemical form, and thus symptoms and signs are rather different in exposure to elemental mercury, inorganic mercury compounds, or organic mercury compounds (notably alkylmercury compounds such as methylmercury and ethylmercury salts, and dimethylmercury). The sources of exposure are also markedly different for the different forms of mercury. For alkylmercury compounds, among which methylmercury is by far the most important, the major source of exposure is diet, especially fish and other seafood. This is because methylmercury bioaccumulates, meaning larger predatory fish(such as tuna, sharks, marlins) have much higher levels of methylmercury in their bodies than non-predatory fish.(4) For elemental mercury vapour, the most important source for the general population is dental amalgam, but exposure at work may in some situations exceed this by many times (for example for nurses in hospitals, for dental nurses, dentists and workers in labs). For inorganic mercury compounds, diet is the most important source for the majority of people. However, for some segments of populations, use of skin-lightening creams and soaps that contain mercury, and use of mercury for cultural/ritualistic purposes or in traditional medicine, can also result in substantial exposures to inorganic or elemental mercury.(5)

Organic mercury, in the form of methylmercury, is the most toxic form humans are usually exposed to. Methylmercury is a well-documented neurotoxicant, which may in particular cause adverse effects on the developing brain. Moreover, this compound readily passes both the placental barrier and the blood-brain barrier, therefore, exposures during pregnancy are of highest concern. Also, some studies suggest that even small increases in methylmercury exposures may cause adverse effects on the cardiovascular system, thereby leading to increased mortality. Given the importance of cardiovascular diseases worldwide, these findings, although yet to be confirmed, suggest that methylmercury exposures need close attention and additional follow-up. Moreover, methylmercury compounds are considered possibly carcinogenic to humans (group 2B) according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, 1993), based on their overall evaluation.(6)

Eating contaminated fish(7) is the major source of human exposure to methylmercury. The populations most at risk are fetuses, infants, and young children(8) . Consequently, fish consumption by pregnant women, young children, and women of childbearing age is cause for concern because of the likelihood of mercury exposure. Experts estimate that almost half (44%) of young children in France(9) could have levels exceeding health standards, which would put them at risk for mercury poisoning. The EU Extended Impact Assessment states that anywhere from 3 to 15 million people in Europe alone have mercury levels around the recommended limit and a percentage have levels ten times as high, at which there are clear neurodevelopmental effects.(10)

One of the worst industrial disasters in history was caused by the dumping of mercury compounds into Minamata Bay, Japan. The Chisso Corporation, a fertilizer and later petrochemical company, was found responsible for polluting the bay from 1932-1968. It is estimated that over 3.000 people –consuming fish from the lake- suffered various deformities, sever mercury poisoning symptoms or death from what became known as Minamata disease.(11) The Supreme Court n November 2005 held the central government and Kumamoto Prefecture responsible for Minamata disease in awarding 71.5 million yen in damages to plaintiffs in the nation's worst-ever case of industrial poisoning. (12)

The main route of exposure for elemental mercury is by inhalation of the vapours. About 80 percent of inhaled vapours are absorbed by the lung tissues. This vapour also easily penetrates the blood-brain barrier and is a well-documented neurotoxicant. Intestinal absorption of elemental mercury is low. E lemental mercury can be oxidized in body ti ssues to the inorganic divalent form.

Neurological and behavioural disorders in humans have been observed following inhalation of elemental mercury vapour. Specific symptoms include tremors, emotional lability, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular changes, and headaches. In addition, there are effects on the kidney and thyroid. High exposures have also resulted in death. W ith regard to carcinogenicity, the overall evaluation, according to IARC (1993), is that metallic mercury and inorganic mercury compounds are not classifiable as to carcinogenicity to humans (group 3). A critical effect on which risk assessment could be based is therefore the neurotoxic effects, for example the induction of tremor. The effects on the kidneys (the renal tubule) should also be considered; they are the key endpoint in exposure to inorganic mercury compounds. The effect may well be reversible, but as the exposure to the general population tends to be continuous, the effect may still be relevant.(13)

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(1) UNEP Global Mercury Assessment, December 2002, Summary of the report, paragraphs 39-46 and 48. (2)UNEP Global Mercury Assessment, December 2002, Summary of the report, paragraphs 91-92,101-103, 109-110.
(3) European Commission. SEC(2005)101 Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on Community Strategy Concerning Mercury EXTENDED IMPACT ASSESSMENT {COM(2005)20 final}28.1.2005, p. 12
(4) Physicians for Social Responsibility - Mercury in fish http://www.mercuryaction.org/uploads/PSR_Hg3_FishC.pdf
(5) UNEP Global Mercury Assessment, December 2002, Summary of the report, paragraph 53
(6) UNEP Global Mercury Assessment, December 2002, Summary of the report, paragraph 56
(7) Methylymercury bioaccumulates, meaning larger predatory fish have much higher levels of methylmercury in their bodies than non-predatory fish. For a list of fish with low and high levels of mercury see: Physicians for Social Responsibility - Mercury in fish http://www.mercuryaction.org/uploads/PSR_Hg3_FishC.pdf
(8) A recent study has estimated that 15.7% of women of childbearing age in the United States have mercury levels in their blood that would pose adverse risks to a developing fetus. Based upon the 4,058,814 U.S. births in year 2000, the number of newborns at risk exceeds 637,000 in the US alone. See Mahaffey et al, Blood Organic Mercury and Dietary Mercury Intake: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999 and 2000, Environmental Health Perspectives, April 2004, pp. 562-570; Kathryn R. Mahaffey , (USEPA, Washington, DC), “Methylmercury: Epidemiology Update,” presented at the National Forum on Contaminants in Fish, San Diego, 26 January 2004. More and KR Mahaffey in “Mercury Exposure: Medical and Public Health Issues,” Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association, Vol. 116, pp.127-153 (2005),
(9) European Commission. SEC(2005)101 Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on Community Strategy Concerning Mercury EXTENDED IMPACT ASSESSMENT {COM(2005)20 final}28.1.2005, p. 84
(10) European Commission. SEC(2005)101 Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on Community Strategy Concerning Mercury EXTENDED IMPACT ASSESSMENT {COM(2005)20 final}28.1.2005, p. 12-13
(11) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury_(element)#Applications
(12) The Supreme Court on 11/11/2005 held the central government and Kumamoto Prefecture responsible for Minamata disease in awarding 71.5 million yen in damages to plaintiffs in the nation's worst-ever case of industrial poisoning http://www.asahi.com/english/nation/TKY200410160138.html
(13) UNEP Global Mercury Assessment, December 2002, Summary of the report, paragraphs 57-58



Last Updated on Friday, 30 July 2010 16:40