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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 Press Releases Toxic Trade Emerges as Priority Issue for Asia During Mercury Treaty Adoption:Japan mercury exports ...
Toxic Trade Emerges as Priority Issue for Asia During Mercury Treaty Adoption:Japan mercury exports cited PDF Print
Thursday, 10 October 2013 05:00
zeromercury WG_logo

 

Toxic Trade Emerges as Priority Issue for Asia During Mercury Treaty Adoption: Japan mercury exports cited

 Kumamoto, Japan; 10 October 2013:  As world governments bask in the celebration prepared by the government of Japan for the newly minted Minamata Convention on Mercury, the Zero Mercury Working Group [1] is calling on all countries – including Japan – to help stem the rise of Asia as the world’s mercury trading hub.

 “Traders are increasingly circumventing the export bans imposed by the EU and US by seeking safe havens, particularly in Asia,” said Richard Gutierrez, director of Ban Toxics in the Philippines. “Countries can stop this toxic globe trotting by enacting mercury export bans, following the lead of major trading giants the US and EU.”    

 Japanese exports of mercury accounted for about 400 metric tonnes over the past 4 years, according to UN data. [2] The mercury is frequently shipped to countries [3] where artisanal and small scale gold mining (ASGM) is prevalent, or to major trading centers where it can be traded for ASGM purposes. 

 Japan previously resisted NGO calls earlier to enact similar export bans, awaiting completion of the treaty negotiation process.  With the treaty text now finalized, NGOs are calling for Japan to immediately act.

 “Given its experience with Minamata, Japan should be taking the lead by shutting down its mercury exports,” stated Piyush Mohapatra, Coordinator at Toxics Link in India.  “It can not turn a blind eye to its own toxic exports, especially if it could be creating new “Minamatas” elsewhere in Asia and Latin America.”

  The largest mercury trade hub arising is Singapore.  According to UN COMTRADE data, Singapore was the largest supplier of mercury to the global market in 2012.[4]  During 2011 and 2012, Singapore accounted for approximately 444 MT and 478 MT of global mercury exports respectively.[5]

 Since Singapore imported even larger quantities during this period, it is acting as a toxic supply center for private traders. [6] The majority of these exports are directed to countries engaged in ASGM, with Indonesia receiving over half the exports in both years, and substantial quantities also shipped to Guyana, Kenya, Peru, and Malaysia.[7]

 Hong Kong is also a major trading center, with mercury exports of about 211 MT in 2011 and 245 MT in 2012. “Singapore and China need to differentiate mercury from other commodities, since the free trade of mercury endangers public health.” explains David Lennett, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.  

 Under the Minamata Convention, the trade in mercury will be controlled, largely through an informed consent procedure.  However, 50 countries will need to ratify the treaty before it comes into legal force. 

  “While there are alternatives to mercury and controls for major sources, there is no alternative to international cooperation,” said Michael Bender, ZMWG Coordinator. ”Let’s turn these good intentions into meaningful action on the ground so that developing countries don’t bear the brunt of toxic trade.”

 With the momentum created in Kumamoto this week, and the prospect of financial and technical support coming during the next years, the group believes that the Minamata Convention can set a new standard for the speed of ratification for multilateral environmental agreements.

 “Mercury pollution will not wait for the treaty to enter into force.  It is happening now,” said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, ZWMG coordinator.  “The global community should pursue ratification and implementation with urgency.”

 

- END -

 Contacts: 

Richard Gutierrez, BAN Toxics!, T: +63 2 355 7640, 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, ZMWG International Coordinator,, T: +32 2 2891301, Mobile: +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

David Lennett, Senior Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council, T 1-202-289-2380, 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

Michael Bender, ZMWG International Coordinator, T: +802-917-4579, 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

 

Background reading:

 http://www.unep.org/hazardoussubstances/MinamataConvention/ConferenceofPlenipotentiaries/DipConMeetingDocuments/tabid/105833/Default.aspx

 Endnotes:

  1.  Zero Mercury Working Group is an international coalition of over 95 NGOs from more than 50 countries,  see: www.zeromercury.org
  2. This mercury is typically generated within Japan, from metals byproduct generation and other sources.  See: http://comtrade.un.org/db/dqBasicQueryResultsd.aspx?action=print&;px=H3&cc=280540&r=392, viewed August 23, 2013.  Note:  to view the UN Comtrade database, please see instructions at: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/tradekb/Knowledgebase/How-to-query-data-from-UN-Comtrade.  The commodity code for mercury is (HS 2007) 280540.
  3. Such as Colombia, Brazil, Indonesia, Viet Nam.
  4. See http://comtrade.un.org/db/dqBasicQueryResults.aspx?y=2012&;cc=280540&px=H3&so=9999&rpage=dqBasicQuery&qt=n, viewed August 23, 2013.  Spain exported a larger quantity of mercury in 2012, but virtually all the trade stayed within the European Union.
  5. See http://comtrade.un.org/db/dqBasicQueryResultsd.aspx?action=print&;px=H3&cc=280540&r=702, viewed August 23, 2013.
  6. See http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-05-24/the-slippery-market-for-mercury#p4.
  7. See http://comtrade.un.org/db/dqBasicQueryResultsd.aspx?action=print&;px=H3&cc=280540&r=702, viewed August 23, 2013.