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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

Vinyl Chloride Monomer (VCM) PDF Print
Friday, 23 September 2011 15:50

Vinyl Chloride Monomer (VCM) Production

Poly vinyl chloride, or PVC is a type of plastic that is used for everything from water and sewer pipes to plastic toys and clothing. Vinyl chloride monomer, or VCM, is the building block of PVC.

Most manufacturing of PVC around the world uses natural gas or petroleum as the “feedstock” or raw material from which the plastic is manufactured. However, most PVC manufacturing in China uses a different process that starts with coal as the feedstock.
In that coal-based process, mercury is a catalyst to spark the chemical reaction among ingredients. In 2009, the coal-based process was used at 94 of 104 China’s VCM plants, although these plants accounted for only about 63% of China’s PVC production, according to the latest data provided by their trade association.
Some of the mercury catalyst is lost during this industrial process and must be continually replenished. It is poorly understood exactly where the lost mercury ends up and how it gets there, but we do know that PVC manufacturing consumes over 800 metric tons of mercury each year, based on how much mercury is  purchased by the industry to replenish the catalyst. China’s PVC manufacturing industry represents one of the most significant uses of mercury in the world today.
Nearly all coal-based PVC manufacturing occurs in China, because the petroleum based alternative process uses less energy, is cheaper in most countries, and superior environmentally. For China, the coal-mercury process is considered preferable domestically because it relies upon China’s own natural coal resource, rather than petrochemical imports. There are also practical barriers against using the petroleum-based process in the interior (non-coastal) regions of China, where much of the PVC production capacity exists or is planned.

In China, coal will likely remain the principal PVC feedstock material. Thus, a key to reducing mercury use in this sector is to find a less toxic but effective replacement catalyst. Significantly, several companies have plans for early 2011 to pilot test a mercury free catalyst in China, and commercial demonstration testing could soon follow.

Relevant legislation and NGO policy work

In the EU

No relevant legislation exists at EU level since the mercury process is not used for the VCM production in Europe.

Globally 

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 VCM (Jan 2011)