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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 Trade, Supply and Storage
Mercury Trade, Supply and Storage PDF Print
Friday, 11 March 2011 17:01

Mercury Trade, Supply and Storage

A critical element of reducing mercury use and pollution is reducing the global mercury supply. Reducing global supply will help to reduce mercury demand, by raising the price of mercury and making it more difficult to acquire.  This result is especially important for lowering mercury uses that are difficult to address directly or through legal restrictions, such as small-scale gold mining. Because mercury cannot be destroyed or converted into other substances, reducing global supply requires reducing and ultimately eliminating international trade of mercury and creating safe long-term storage for existing mercury stocks.

Sources of Mercury Supply

Main Mercury Sources

Metric Tons Per Year

Primary mercury mining

1300-1600

By-product mercury from mining other metals, and natural gas production

400-600

Decommissioning Chlor-alkali facilities

700-900

Recovery of mercury from spent used products, and other wastes

600-800

 Government or private mercury stocks

As needed

TOTAL

3100-3900+


Primary mercury mining is the least preferred source of mercury because it adds new mercury to the global mercury reservoir, and mining activities are significant sources of mercury air pollution.  Kyrgyzstan and China are the only countries that still operate large-scale primary mercury mines, and only Kyrgyzstan mines for export.
                Mining other ores such as gold, zinc, lead, and copper can generate significant quantities of by-product mercury during smelting and refining activities.  Pollution control devices at metal mines add to the quantity of byproduct mercury by trapping mercury air pollution.  Producers of natural gas also capture elemental mercury in order to prevent corrosion of their production lines.
                Significant quantities of mercury are generated from collection, recycling and reprocessing of mercury-containing products, and industrial wastes, particularly in the developed world. Reprocessed mercury is a growing source of mercury supply as environmental regulations divert mercury during waste management for safety and environmental reasons.
                Particularly large quantities of mercury become available when mercury cell chlor-alkali plants close or convert to non-mercury processes.  Capturing and storing mercury from these decommissioning chlor-alkali facilities is an efficient and cost effective way to reduce the global mercury supply because large quantities are already aggregated at one location.

Trade Restrictions & Storage Plans
                Export bans in the EU and USA, effective in 2011 and 2013 respectively, are projected to reduce the annual global supply by about 40%. Both the EU and USA are currently preparing safe storage requirements and developing storage capacity for this material. Elsewhere in the world, regional assessments of current and projected excess supply have been completed for Asia, and the Latin America/ Caribbean regions.  Options for storage are being discussed in each of these regions. Substantial work has been carried out on storage under the UNEP Mercury Storage and Supply partnership.


Relevant legislation and NGO policy work

In the EU

In 2008, the European Governments agreed on a Regulation to ban mercury export and to safely store the surplus mercury. the full work of the NGOs, as well as all relevant papers can be found in this section: EU mercury export ban and safe storage

Globally

In the US,the Mercury Export Ban Act (PDF) (8 pp, 166K, About PDF) was signed into law on October 14, 2008. The Act includes provisions on both mercury exports and long-term mercury management and storage. Because the United States is ranked as one of the world's top exporters of mercury, implementation of the act will remove a significant amount of mercury from the global market. Currently, mercury is exported from the United States to foreign countries where it has various uses, including for use in small-scale gold (artisanal) mining. This use of mercury raises worker safety and environmental emissions issues. To aid in addressing these concerns, EPA has provided expertise to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)'s Global Mercury Project's artisanal mining project, which focuses on best management practices to reduce occupational exposure, emissions and mercury use.

US NGOs Natural Resources Defense Council and Mercury Policy Project have worked hard towards have this law adopted.

In Japan, the NGO CACP in cooperation with Ban Toxics! of Philippines and the Zero Mercury Working Group have been working towards a Japanese mercury export ban. Several meetings and a symposium were organised in 2010, under a ZMWG/EEB supported project. More details about this project can be found here.

On  storage,  the ZMWG, under the UNEP Mercury Supply and Storage Partnership, has been giving substantial input on the relevant studies on the Asias and Latin America situtation, since it also was the interim lead of the partnership area. The provided input can be found here.