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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 in processes Artisanal Small Scale Gold mining
Artisanal and Small Scale Gold Mining PDF Print
Friday, 23 September 2011 15:14

Artisanal Small Scale Gold mining (ASGM)

Artisanal and small scale gold mining (ASGM) is a complex global development issue. 

ASGM uses substantial amounts of mercury in mineral processing usually in highly unsafe and environmentally hazardous conditions. Mercury is used to bind the gold to form an amalgam, which helps separate it from the rock, sand and other materials. The amalgam is then heated to vaporize the mercury leaving the gold behind.

The use of mercury in ASGM continues to rise especially in developing countries mainly because it is considered simple and inexpensive. It is believed that ASGM produces 20 – 30 % of the world’s gold or approximately 500-800 tonnes per annum.

An estimated 10-15 million artisanal and small scale gold miners globally in approximately 70 countries are involved and eventually exposed to mercury.

ASGM is the largest demand sector for mercury globally (estimated at 650-1000 tonnes in 2005).

The amount mercury released within ASGM is dependent on the technique applied. The existing techniques include:

1.     Whole Ore amalgamation

In this process, mercury is added to all the ore being processes during crushing, grinding and sluicing. This is the most polluting way to use mercury. In many cases, only 10% of the mercury added to an amalgamating barrel or pan combines with gold to produce the amalgam. The rest (90%) is excess and must be recycled or released into the environment. This subsequently leads to widespread mercury levels in the surrounding environment and the most severe health exposure to the miners as well as non-miners.

2.     Gravity concentration (Panning)

This very common process involves concentrating gold with the heavier particles in the pan, while the lighter particles are sluiced away. Mercury is then added to the concentrates in order to amalgamate or gather the fine gold particles. About 10-15% of mercury releases from the ASGM are as a result of this process.

3.     Burning amalgam

Gold is also recovered from heating the amalgam through burning it in a metal pan over an open fire.When this is done without the use of a retort, mercury vapours are released into the air and inhaled by the miners.This practice produces atmospheric mercury emissions of about 300 metric tones per year worldwide. (GMP, 2006). The use of retorts to collect the mercury vapour can prevent mercury release into the atmosphere therefore reducing exposure to miners and the surrounding communities. With the use of retorts, about 95% of the mercury is recycled and can be re-used.

 Low mercury and mercury free solutions are available.

Relevant legislation and NGO policy work

In the EU

In the EU no ASGM takes place, apart from the French territories ofGuiana- where officially mercury use is prohibited under French law.

A relevant piece of legislation however is the EU Mercury Export Ban Regulation

Globally

Several projects and initiatives have been and  taking place globally, to reduce emissions from the sector.

The Global Mercury Project (UNIDO/UNDP/GEF) began in 2002 with a vision to address the environmental issue of mercury contamination from artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) and to demonstrate ways of overcoming barriers to the adoption of best practices and pollution prevention measures that limit the mercury contamination of international waters from this sector. Six countries have been formally participating in the GMP:Brazil, Lao PDR,Indonesia,Sudan,Tanzania andZimbabwe. The GMP aims to introduce cleaner technologies, train miners, develop regulatory mechanisms and capacities within Government, conduct environmental and health assessments (E&HA) and build capacity within participating countries which will continue monitoring Hg pollution after the project.

Important work is currently being carried out under the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership on Reducing Mercury in ASGM. The partnership is lead by UNIDO and NRDC (Member of ZMWG).

A global inventory of ASGM projects is available.

Smaller on the ground projects have been taking place in Tanzania , funded by NGOs such as the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, the European Environmental Bureau/Zero Mercury Working Group and the Artisanal Gold Council.

The ZMWG has been following this issue closely and has been giving respective feedback at the global mercury negotiations. See also the ZMWG fact sheet  on Artisanal and Small Scale Gold mining (ASGM) (Jan 2011).

In the US the   Mercury Export Ban Act of 2008 is also a relevant piece of legislation - http://www.epa.gov/hg/regs.htm