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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

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Sunday, 18 September 2011 21:54

European EEB/ZMWG supported projects - Chlor-alkali campaign

In Europe, during the period 2006-2010, five NGOS have been supported respectively from Spain (Ecologistas en Accion), Italy (Legambiente), Czech Republic (Arnika), Germany (DNR)  and France (FNE) -  mainly focusing on mercury use in the chlor-alkali sector.

All projects were funded as part of the ZMWG/EEB Chlor-alkali campaign focusing, on eliminating mercury use from the chlor-alkali sector. These projects involved measuring mercury in the air outside chlor-alkali plants, by using a portable measuring instrument - Lumex - in each of the respective countries and to pressure government and industry to close down polluting plants.

The monitoring was part of a broader effort by ZMWG/ EEB and cooperating organisations to:-

  • create momentum in each country towards obtaining a national commitment for the early conversion of existing mercury-cell chlor-alkali plants, while ensuring that decommissioned mercury from these plants will be safely stored and not re-enter the market; and to
  • raise awareness on mercury issues in general.

Thus far through our EU Lumex campaigns, success has been achieved in, France, Spain and the Czech Republic. Results obtained were significant in many cases and helped NGOs raise awareness in their region and country, as discussed further below.

In France, the mercury levels recorded outside a mercury chlor-alkali plant Arkema in Jarrie were presented in a press conference by our NGO partner, France Nature Environment (FNE), and EEB in 2009. As a result, the French Ministry of Environment announced plans for further monitoring and revision of a national law, with the intended consequence being an earlier phase out date than the previously agreed 2020 closure date. Subsequently, the Ministry announced that the chlor-alkali plant (mentioned above) will convert to a mercury free process by 2013.

In Spain, our NGO colleagues Ecologistas en Accion (EeA) carried out a third round of measurements in 2010 and released their report. In response, the Spanish Ministry of Environment contacted EeA, stating that the findings appeared serious enough to request  a Public Prosecutor to open a legal file against the companies for not complying with their voluntary agreement. Also, legal actions are to be taken against Elnosa in Lourizan, by the association “Asociación pola Defensa da Ría” and the EeA is also trying to convince the Environment Ministry to sue these and other companies for non-compliance as well.

In the Czech Republic after Arnika's pressure, phase out dates for the two chlor-alkali plants in the country were set for 2012 and 2014 instead of the initial industry request for 2020.

In parallel, and to further support the Chlor-alkali campaign, the EEB/ZMWG commissioned a study to Concorde East/West SA on the Status of the Mercury cell chlor-alkali plants in Europe (October 2006). The study highlighted the impact of Europe’s chlor-alkali plants. It reveals growing evidence that mercury air emissions from the EU’s chlorine plants may be significantly under-reported, by as much as five times, and might even equal emission levels from the EU’s large coal-fired power stations. EEB/ZMWG has also issued its own report in October 2006  - Risky Business! No need for mercury in the chlorine industry - including independent air quality sampling results from around mercury-cell chlor-alkali factories in Italy, Spain and the Czech Republic, which found disturbingly high mercury levels around ten of the eleven plants monitored. 

A press release on the same issue has been sent out on 10 November 2006, revealing the publication of the two reports.

Eurochlor responded with a statement - on the 14 November 2006.

As  an answer to that, on the 23 November 2006 the EEB sent a letter to EuroChlor copied to EU Member State representatives and journalists

Furthermore, a survey was carried out in 2008, assessing the implementation of the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive in the chlor-alkali sector - EEB snapshot report: The European Chlor-alkali industry: Is national implementation of the IPPC Directive contributing to mercury-free industry?[ December 2008]

Because of these successes - and as part of the ZMWG global strategy, a Lumex machine has been purchased and is currently used by NGOs in developing countries.

See more details under the respective country's page: Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Spain