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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.


Home Press Releases Mercury treaty rises but weak emissions regime undercuts progress
Mercury treaty rises but weak emissions regime undercuts progress PDF Print
Saturday, 19 January 2013 07:28
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Mercury treaty rises but weak emissions regime undercuts progress

[19 January 2013, Geneva]—After four years of deliberation, a new global regime rises today that will govern toxic mercury worldwide.  The new treaty is a mixture of mandatory and voluntary elements intended to control the burgeoning global mercury crisis.  While heading in the right direction, the Zero Mercury Working Group[i], expressed concerns about the treaty not reaching far enough nor fast enough to address the spiraling human health risks from mercury exposure.


“Adoption of a global legal agreement on mercury is a major accomplishment,” said Michael T. Bender, co-coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group.   “Yet the instrument is hampered by weak controls on mercury emissions from major sources like coal-fired power plants.”


For instance,  new facilities will not be required to have mercury pollution controls for 5 years after the treaty enters into force, with existing facilities given 10 years before they begin their control efforts. 


Yet ZMWG says there are bright spots in the treaty. These include provisions to reduce trade, prohibit the primary mining of mercury, and phase out the toxic element in most products containing mercury, like thermometers, measuring devices and batteries. 


“Some of these steps were unthinkable just a couple of years ago.  Now, alternatives exist for most all products containing mercury,” said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, of European  Environmental Bureau and co-coordinator of ZMWG. “The treaty sends the right market signal and will eventually lead to less exposures worldwide."


The treaty also addresses artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM),  which is both the largest intentional use of mercury globally, and is the largest emission source.


“While national action plans will foster reduced use of mercury in ASGM, the treaty fails to include a provision to require an eventual end to this polluting practice,” said Richard Gutierrez, Ban Toxics! Director from the Philippines.  “With the current text, it seems that mercury use in ASGM may go on indefinitely.”


The Zero Mercury Working Group looks forward to treaty implementation, as the real challenge begins for the governments especially in developing and least developing states.  The new mercury treaty, in spite its flaws, presents a real opportunity to work towards significant reduction of mercury globally.


Michael Bender, tel.: +802  917 4579; email:  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


Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, tel.:+32 2 2891301, +32 496 532818, 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




[i] The Zero Mercury Working Group is an international coalition of over 100 public interest NGOs from more than 50 countries founded by the European Environmental Bureau and Mercury Policy Project, in 2005 to achieve ‘Zero’ emissions, demand and supply of mercury; www.zeromercury.org