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In advance of treaty adoption, hair testing shows worldwide exposure to mercury  

 

Wednesday 2 October 2013, Minamata, Japan--- Just prior to the adoption of a global treaty on mercury[i][i], a new Zero Mercury Working Group[ii][ii] report[iii][iii] highlights the importance of the treaty being ratified as soon as possible to reduce global pollution and exposure to mercury.  The treaty is expected be signed next week near Minamata, Japan, where a major mercury poisoning incident was first discovered in the 1950’s.[iv][iv] 

Civil society organizations from 9 countries – including Tokyo-based Citizens Against Chemicals Pollution – participated in the study in order to ascertain mercury hair levels in women of child bearing age and raise exposure reduction awareness.  The study revealed that women in several countries had higher mercury levels, in correlation with fish consumption. 

Nearly one-quarter (24%) of the samples exceeded the widely recognized U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guideline of 1 micrograms per gram.  In 4 of the countries, a high percentage of women exceeded the threshold, specifically:

  • 71% in Japan;
  • 64% in Spain;
  • 36%      in Mauritius; and
  • 23% in Côte d’Ivoire.

"The results indicate that the mercury hair levels in Japanese women were significantly higher than the other countries tested," said Dr. Takashi Yorifuji, Associate Professor at Okayama University Graduate School of Environmental and Life Science, Japan. "Risk of adverse health effects in children following in utero methylmercury exposures is well documented and rises as maternal exposure increases."

While most exposure studies have been conducted in developed countries, much less is known about exposures in other regions. 

“It’s imperative to expand capacity to assess exposure variations worldwide,” said Michael Bender, ZMWG International Coordinator.  “Hair testing lends itself well to citizen participation, as civil society has special access to local communities.  It can also be used to evaluate the Convention’s progress in reducing exposure.”

In addition to pregnant women, the report identified other populations at potential risk, including: 

  • populations exposed to local pollution sources;
  • coastal populations;
  • indigenous peoples;
  • fishing      communities; and
  • heavy fish      eaters.

The report notes that the situation from country to country is highly variable and seems to be affected by multiple factors, including amounts and types of fish consumed and family income.

“Governments should measure concentration of mercury in fish and issue advisories especially to protect pregnant women, children and those who eat large quantities of fish,” said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, EEB/ZMWG International Coordinator.

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Home Press Releases Evidence shows mercury threat underestimated ahead of UN treaty talks
Evidence shows mercury threat underestimated ahead of UN treaty talks PDF Print
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 11:11
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                                Evidence shows mercury threat underestimated ahead of UN treaty talks

[4 December 2012, Brussels]--New reports released today show widespread global mercury contamination of seafood and health effects from methylmercury in seafood occurring below the level that was considered “safe” just a few years ago. The Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) [1], in cooperation with the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) [2], is facilitating the release of the three reports.[3] 

“The level of mercury in the Pacific Ocean is projected to increase by 50% by 2050 if current pollution trends continue unabated,” said Richard Gutierrez, executive director of Ban Toxics!, located in Quezon City, Philippines. “This is a wake-up call for all governments to stem the rising tide of mercury pollution and finalize a strong treaty.”

The new scientific findings are to be presented at the start of the fifth and final round of United Nations negotiations to put in place a legally binding global treaty to reduce mercury use and pollution [4]. The legal text negotiated by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee is expected to be completed on 18 January 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland.

“The latest science points to the need for strict reduction measures to address the global mercury crisis,” said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, co-coordinator of ZMWG at the European Environment Bureau in Brussels, Belgium.

Other key science findings include the following:

  •  Larger predatory      fish—such as swordfish, shark and certain species of tuna— are often      listed in national fish consumption advisories due to higher mercury      concentrations. Different seafood varieties can differ by at least      100-fold in their average mercury content.
  • Seafood regularly consumed      by people contains mercury concentrations that commonly exceed “safe” levels      (based upon US EPA standards [5]). However, there are also plenty of low      mercury seafood alternatives with high omega 3 benefits;
  • Several recent      epidemiological studies clearly show that the consumption of ordinary      amounts of fish can cause an unsafe risk to the developing foetus and      children, suggesting that the current health exposure tolerance levels      should be revised to reflect the latest scientific findings; and
  • BRI’s Global Biotic Mercury Synthesis (GBMS) project provides a standardized and      comprehensive database that can be used to      identify mercury data gaps, describe areas where further research is      needed, and evaluate the      effectiveness of the future global mercury treaty. 

“We believe it is crucial to understand global baseline mercury
concentrations in order to make appropriate decisions on how to evaluate the effectiveness of the treaty,”
David C. Evers, Ph.D., executive director of BRI and a member of the UNEP Fate and Transport Partnership Group.

ENDS

[1] Zero Mercury Working Group is a coalition of more than 95 NGOs around the world working towards zero supply, demand, and emissions of mercury from all anthropogenic sources, with the goal of reducing mercury in the global environment to a minimum. www.zeromercury.org

[2] Biodiversity Research Institute’s  mission is to assess emerging threats to wildlife and ecosystems through collaborative research, and use scientific findings to advance environmental awareness and inform decision makers.

[3] The report from BRI reveals patterns of global seafood mercury concentrations. A companion report written by Dr. Edward Groth III for the ZMWG provides an overview of epidemiological evidence for mercury effects on human health and a rationale for lower tolerance levels.  Finally, ZMWG presents a short summary of the report findings, and provides recommendations.  Links to all the reports are available at:  www.zeromercury.org.

[4] http://new.unep.org/hazardoussubstances/Mercury/Negotiations/tabid/3320/Default.aspx

[5] The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s health-based reference dose for methylmercury is 1x10-4 milligrams/kilogram-day, a body weight of 132 pounds or 60 kilograms and a fish meal size of 6 ounces or 170 grams.

Patterns of Global Seafood Mercury Concentrations and their Relationship with Human Health [EMBARGOED]

Mercury Contamination, Exposures and Risk: Summary and Recommendations (Zero Mercury Summary and Recommendations)

An Overview of Epidemiological Evidence on the Effects of Methylmercury on Brain Development, and a Rationale for a Lower Definition of Tolerable Exposure

Contacts:

ZMWG /EEB – Alison Abrahams - This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it +32 489 304 962

BRI - Deborah McKew - This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it - +1 (207) 839-7600  x222