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Summary of the First Conference of the Parties for the Minamata Convention on Mercury

24th-29th September, Geneva, Switzerland.

The Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) closely followed the First Conference of the Parties for the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP1) in Geneva, Switzerland, 24th-29th of September 2017 and intervened as appropriate[1]. We were pleased to see the COP1 reached consensus on pending matters from prior meetings of the Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee (INC) which resulted in establishing an effective Convention operational framework for achieving significant mercury reductions.

Our main priorities for COP1 included adoption of forms and guidance that was approved at INC 7, and addressing the issues of reporting, waste thresholds, interim storage guidelines, effectiveness evaluation, and matters for future action, which included the following decisions.

  • Article 3 guidance on identifying mercury stocks, and the forms/instructions for complying with mercury trade consent and related certification requirements;
  • The product and process exemption forms and associated register of exemptions under Article 6 of the Convention; a registrar will be kept by the Secretariat and these will also be available to the public
  • Article 8 (air emissions) guidance on BAT/ BEP, options for existing facility control requirements, preparing emissions inventories, and selection of “relevant sources” within the specified source categories; and
  • The Guidance for preparing the ASGM National Action Plan (NAP) under article 7.

COP1 also saw significant progress concerning various other ZMWG priorities, including :

Reporting:          Forms were adopted for use by Parties to report back on the measures undertaken to meet Convention obligations and on the effectiveness of those measures.  In particular, ZMWG most welcomed the decision for a shorter reporting cycle for supply and trade, reporting per year data on a biennial basis. For other obligations, Parties will report every four years. It was also agreed that each Party will submit its first biennial report by 31 December 2019 and its first full report by December 2021. Parties are also encouraged to submit an electronic form,  and the Secretariat is requested to make the Parties electronic reports available.

Furthermore, it was agreed that Parties would provide access to their data related to mercury emissions, under Article 8. Parties would also provide the rational on how they plan to ensure that facilities responsible for at least 75% of the emissions from a source category are subject to controls.

Waste Thresholds:          COP1 established an intercessional work group to further elaborate on waste thresholds, building on a document introduced by Japan. As recommended by NRDC/ZMWG, the terms of reference for the working group were focused more on determining which mercury wastes warrant thresholds rather than assuming thresholds are appropriate for all wastes. The expert group will identify the types of waste that fall within the categories specified in paragraph 2 of Article 11, provide related information; prioritising the types of waste identified that are most relevant for the establishment of waste thresholds, and identify possible approaches to establishing any needed thresholds for those prioritised waste for consideration at COP2. We were also pleased to see COP1 approving the participation of civil society within the working group, another ZMWG priority.

Interim Storage:                             COP1 requested the Secretariat to undertake further revision of the draft guidelines through input from relevant experts, including technical experts from the Basel Convention and present a revised draft for consideration at COP2. Provisional use of the current draft guidelines is encouraged.

Effectiveness Evaluation:             COP1 adopted a draft road map for establishing arrangements both for providing comparable monitoring data and elements of an effectiveness evaluation framework, as ZMWG had sought.  To that end an ad hoc group of experts was established including 25 experts nominated by the Parties – 5 per region, as well as 10 civil society experts, including NGOs, as observers.

Matters for Future Action (Article 3) - (Article 14):              Several matters were brought up for consideration. Under Article 3, trade in mercury compounds was one of several issued identified for future consideration by the COP. In regards to Article 14 – Capacity building, technical assistance and technology transfer, Parties and other stakeholder were invited to submit relevant information on capacity building, technical assistance and technology transfer for the Secretariat to compile and present at COP2.

Despite progress made, challenges remain, both related to the location and structure of the Minamata Convention Secretariat and the Memorandum of Understanding regarding the financial mechanism of the Convention with the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). The Secretariat will be temporarily located in Geneva, with further review of arrangements at COP2.

In summary, the final road map is now in place to ‘zero down’ global mercury pollution, but critical work remains.   ZMWG looks forward to a productive second meeting of the Conference of the Parties, which will be held in Geneva 19-23 November 2018.   

[1] All ZMWG interventions are available on our website http://www.zeromercury.org/index.php?option=com_content&;;view=article&id=309:unenvironment-minamata-mercury-cop1-24-29-september-2017-geneva-switzerland&catid=54:developments-main-category&Itemid=104

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