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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

Home MERCURY AND ITS USES/EMISSIONS Mercury in products Thermostats, Switches and relays
Thermostats, Switches and relays PDF Print

Electrical and electronic switches, relays and contacts with mercury are normally used in various applications such as:

  • level or “tilt” switches in thermostats, car boot or bonnet lids (lighting), car ride control systems, freezer or washing machine lids, “fall alarms” for the elderly, railway signals, sewer pumps, water pumps, car ABS sensors, light-activators in children's shoes, among others.
  • multiple-pole level switches in excavation machines,
  • mercury-wetted contacts (in electronics),
  • data transmission relays or "reed relays",
  • thermo-switches, among others

Mercury in electrical components has been under substitution in some countries for nearly two decades, and mercury-free substitutes are being used for most or all of these applications. Even though the level of awareness of the mercury-free substitutes is on the rise, the status and extent of substitution varies considerably from one country to another.

Relevant legislation and NGO policy work

In the EU

The European Union has developed and adopted two pieces of legislation regulating the content and disposition of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE); Directive 2002/96/EC (WEEE) mainly ensures separate collection and recycling of EEE, while Directive 2002/95/EC (RoHS) bans the use of certain hazardous chemicals – including mercury or any components containing mercury – in new equipment marketed after 1 July 2006.

The RoHS directive presently covers EEE such as large household appliances, small household appliances, information and communications technology equipment, consumer devices, lighting equipment, electrical and electronic tools, etc.

The directive is currently under revision. The revised RoHS is expected to cover EEE measuring and control devices (including switches, relays) as well as medical devices.

Several countries inEuropehave already taken action to ban or restrict the use of some or all products containing mercury. These countries include:Sweden,Denmark,Netherlands,France,Norway,

From theSwedenandDenmarkexperiences, there have been many detailed studies comparing the cost and functionality of mercury and non-mercury products. All these studies demonstrate the feasibility of banning the sales of most mercury-containing products.

Globally

InCanadaand theUSsome states are much more progressive than others and have already proposed relevant restrictions. In situations where adequate alternatives do not yet exist, most of these countries allow specific exemptions for specialized uses.

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