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22 September 2017

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New treaty effectiveness will depend on adequacy of data to be collected, say NGOs  

Geneva, Switzerland

Prior to the start of the first Conference of Parties (COP1), the Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) welcomed the entry into force of the Minamata Convention. 

“While there are alternatives to mercury, there are no alternatives to global cooperation,” said Michael Bender, international ZMWG coordinator. “We applaud the world’s governments for committing to curtail this dangerous neurotoxin.”

The First Conference of the Parties will take place from 24 to 29 September 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland.  Over 1,000 delegates and around 50 ministers are expected to assemble in Geneva to celebrate and lay the groundwork for the treaty’s overall effectiveness.
During the prior negotiations, the Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee (INC) approved many of the forms and guidance that the Convention specifies must be adopted at COP 1, which are needed for the swift and smooth launch and running of the Convention.  These include guidance documents on identifying stocks, determining best available technologies and reducing mercury use in small scale gold mining; as well as forms for trade procedures and for exemptions from certain deadlines.

“These INC approvals were achieved by consensus after considerable deliberations, and are ready for approval without further debate,” said Satish Sinha, Toxics Link India.

Among the most critical open issues to be discussed at COP1 are the reporting requirements, which will provide critical information on both the global mercury situation and the effectiveness of the Convention in achieving mercury reductions.   Particularly critical to collect will be data on mercury production and trade, which can change significantly in a short period of time.

 “Countries will not have readily available information about production and trade in bordering countries or within their region, unless there is frequent reporting under the Convention,” said David Lennett, Senior Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council “Many borders between countries are “porous,” and where a significant portion of mercury trade is informal/illegal.   Good data on legal trade flows will enable actions to address illegal trade, all of which has a huge impact on artisanal and small scale gold mining, the largest source of mercury pollution globally.

Mercury is a global pollutant that travels long distances. Its most toxic form – methylmercury - accumulates in large predatory fish and is taken up in our bodies through eating fish, with the worst impacts on babies in utero

For more information, see:




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 "> 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 "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

For information on reporting, please contact 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 "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

For further information, please contact:

*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.


Polyurethanes PDF Print
Friday, 11 March 2011 16:51

In polyurethane manufacture, for many applications, the catalysts of choice for catalysing the reaction between a polyol and an isocyanate composition, i.e., for hardening or curing polyurethane (PU) materials, have long been organic mercury compounds. This is because, for a wide range of polyurethane materials, these catalysts provide a robust and desirable “reaction profile” characterised by:

• an initial induction period in which the reaction is either very slow or does not take place, which continues for sufficient time to permit the “system” (combination of polyurethane materials and catalyst) to be mixed and cast (or sprayed); and

• a subsequent rapid reaction period during which the product cures, taking on its final properties (shape, hardness, flexibility, strength, etc.).

Like any catalyst used in PU elastomer systems, the mercury catalyst is incorporated into the polymer structure and remains in the final product. Over time – and accelerated by exposure to harsh environments, UV, abrasion, etc. – the polymer structure breaks down and mercury is released.

Mercury in PU products already attracted attention some years ago. According to an investigation by the Minnesota (USA) Department of Health, some PU elastomer flooring manufactured from about 1960 through at least 1980 contained up to 0.1% mercury in phenylmercuric acetate or other organo-mercuric salts that were used as catalysts (Reiner 2005, as cited by MDH 2006). Ambient mercury concentrations in school gyms ranged from 0.13 to 2.9 Pg/m3, and in 5 of 6 gyms was above the RfC level of 0.3 Pg/m3 established by US EPA as the exposure level below which no adverse health effect is expected (MDH 2006). A separate investigation in Ohio (USA) showed that PU elastomer floors in schools also emitted mercury is excess of the 0.3 Pg/m3 RfC level (Newhouse 2003).

It is estimated that 300-350 tonnes of mercury catalyst may be used globally in PU elastomer applications, of which some 60-105 tonnes in the EU (industry communications; SRI 2006). If one assumes the mercury catalyst is added to a system at an average of 0.5-0.6%, then approximately 55,000 - 65,000 tonnes of PU elastomers globally are catalysed with mercury each year. Assuming the global market for PU elastomers is 1.6 million tonnes, this suggests that around 4% of that global market uses mercury catalysts. As a percentage this is not high, but it represents over 100 tonnes of mercury consumption worldwide, and 20-35 tonnes of mercury consumption with PU elastomers in the EU27+2. The mercury catalyst mainly ends up in the final product, and it is roughly estimated that the mercury consumption in PU elastomer end products corresponds to the consumption during production of 20-35 tonnes within the EU27+2.

Tin and amine catalysts are alternatives to Hg catalysts for some PU elastomer applications, titanium and zirconium compounds have been introduced for others, while bismuth, zinc, platinum, palladium, hafnium, etc., compounds are marketed for still others. In fact, known mercury-free catalysts could be used for nearly all elastomer applications, but some reduction in the key performance characteristics of activity, selectivity, catalyst lifetime, etc., may have to be accommodated until the best system is identified for a given application. (Shepherd 2008).

As suggested, a large number of Hg-free catalysts for PU elastomers have been developed as alternatives to mercury – the large number reflecting the fact that there does not appear to be a “drop-in” substitute for mercury catalysts that can be used in so many different systems, that confers similarly desirable curing properties, and that is so forgiving and easy to adjust to the needs of the user.

Despite these challenges, it should be stressed that perfectly viable substitutes to mercury catalysts are already in use for over 95% of PU elastomer systems, and have been in use for many years.

The cost of most mercury-free catalysts is quite competitive with the typical mercury catalyst cost, and even more so if one takes account of waste disposal costs, environmental and other customer concerns. The cost of Thorcat 535 has increased significantly in recent years, and is presently in the range of €40-50/kg, compared to €25-35/kg for medium-priced mercury-free catalysts, and €10-20/kg for cheap mercury-free catalysts (IMCD 2008). A bismuth catalyst would be fairly close to the cost of Thorcat

 (2008, COWI, Concorde)

Relevant legislation and NGO policy work

In the EU

In 2010 the Norwegian authorities submitted a report (report Annex XV) to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), asking for the restriction of use of phenylmercury compounds as catalysts in polyurethane systems,  

The report is open for consultation and comments are due by 24 March 2011.

The Risk Assessment and Socio-economic Analysis Committees of ECHA (RAC, SEAC) will give their opinions on the suggested restriction taking into account comments submitted by the interested parties during the public consultation (see Art 70 and 71). [expected by March 2011].

Furthermore, interested parties will have a possibility to comment the draft opinion of SEAC. [expected summer-autumn 2011]

For more information, about the timetables and procedures, please, consult the new ECHA website at http://echa.europa.eu/reach/restriction_en.asp

Please see the  EEB comments on Phenymercury compounds that were submitted during the public consultation that was concluded on the 24 March 2011.


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