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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

Cultural uses PDF Print
Friday, 11 March 2011 17:21

The characteristics of mercury have led to a range of beliefs across the world. For instance its sudden movement’s characteristic is believed to mean that it will furnish remedies more quickly. It is also said to prevent evil and bad luck form sticking to a person because of its slippery nature.

Mercury has long been used in ethnocultural or religious practices such as Santeria (an Afro-Hispanic belief system), Palo Mayombe (Caribbean), Candomble (Afro-Brazilian), voodoo (Afro-Haitian) and Yoruba Orisha (Afro-Hispanic) among others. Most of these uses are associated with African roots and many of them are related to the Roman Catholic teachings of Spaniards.

In Hindu scriptures, parad (mercury) is regarded as the best of all metals. The opportunity to touch and worship a parad Shivalinga (statue or icon) is believed by some to reward one's holy and good deeds done in the previous and present life. If one meditates beside a parad Shivalinga, it is believed the mind naturally gets concentrated. Mercury is used in such statues, objects and amulets throughout Hindu areas of India for a range of health-related, ceremonial and religious purposes. Mercury is also applied to the skin or used in bathwater, perfumes, lotions and soaps; injected subcutaneously to ward off evil and protect against exposure to diseases while travelling (Prasad 2004) or intramuscularly to help athletes build muscle mass.

Mercury was brought to the new world by Spaniards for use in extracting gold from ores. Its amalgamating properties led to a belief that mercury attracts good fortune, wealth and love.

Mercury is also used in many Asian (especially Chinese) medicines. Ernst and Coon (2001) reported that dozens of Chinese medicines contain Cinnabaris – a complex of sulphides that contain mainly mercuric sulphide; Calomelas – mercurous chloride (calomel); or Hydrargyri

oxydum rubrum – red mercuric oxide. (See also Guangdong, 1997.) No doubt these are among the approximately 1000 homeopathic products identified by the US Food & Drug Administration to contain mercury in varying amounts (Maxson, 2004). China’s emperor, QIN Shi Huang Di (260 BC – 210 BC) took mercury pills in an attempt to achieve eternal life, but instead he dies from mercury poisoning.

Certain herbal remedies and religious items are said to contain substantial amounts of mercury. A good example is the ‘azogue’ – a metallic mercury capsule known to contain up to 8 - 9mg mercury. This capsule is supposedly used to attract luck, love, good health or money; to protect against evil; or to speed the action of spells through a variety of recommended uses. Other uses include:, carrying mercury in a sealed pouch prepared by a spiritual leader, wearing it as an amulet, sprinkling it on the floor or in an automobile, mixing it with perfumes or adding it to devotional candles or oil lamps. For pharmaceutical purposes it is also sometimes taken internally to treat gastrointestinal disorders, or added to bath water, detergent or cosmetic products (NJ MTF, 2002).

In such uses, mercury vapours are released if the mercury is not contained in sealed containers. Such practices as sprinkling it in homes and automobiles, and especially burning it in candles and oil lamps, increase the rate of vaporization.

Researchers estimated that this use of mercury is likely to cause long-term contamination of more than 13,000 homes or apartment buildings in New York City each year, where toxic vapours can linger for months or even years, leading to possible neurological and respiratory symptoms in appartment residents (NRDC, 2004).

A major problem associated with ritualistic mercury use is the contamination of wastewater, where it is estimated that 27% of the users dumped their residual, unused mercury down the drain> In addition, when it is used in bathwater, it gets into the wastewater streams.


Relevant legislation
and NGO policy work

No specific legislation appears to exist restricting use of mercury in religious artifacts.

In 2005, the Indian NGO Toxics Link, under the Zero Mercury Working Group work, released a report on 'The Religious use of Mercury In India: A Case Study of “Parad”

In the US see relevant laws and regulations