EU mercury export ban and safe storage Print
Sunday, 02 October 2011 18:31

EU export ban and safe storage of surplus mercury

This proposal is following Action 5 and Action 9 of EU Strategy on Mercury:

Action 5. As a pro-active contribution to a proposed globally organised effort to phase out primary production of mercury and to stop surpluses re-entering the market as described in section 10, the Commission intends to propose an amendment to Regulation (EC) No. 304/2003 to phase out the export of mercury from the Community by 2011.

Action 9. The Commission will take action to pursue the storage of mercury from the chlor-alkali industry, according to a timetable consistent with the intended phase out of mercury exports by 2011. In the first instance the Commission will explore the scope for an agreement with the industry.

The NGO activities and developments on the issue are presented below in chronological order:

On the 11 May 2005, a letter was sent to the Environment Delegates concerning the urgent need for an EU mercury export ban. A press release followed on the same issue [11/5/2005]. The press release was also sent out in UK, German and Polish press on the 12 May 2005.

On the 8 September 2005  the Commission organised a meeting on the proposed EU mercury export ban and the storage. The NGOs attended with a delegation of 5 persons from the environmental NGOs and 2 from the Health NGOs. Following this meeting the Commission asked the Member States and stakeholders to submit further comments. The Environmental and Health NGOs comments were submitted to the EC on October 3, 2005 and can be seen here.

Discussions were ongoing in the different DGs with respect to a proposed regulation on an EU mercury export ban and storage of surplus mercury.To that end the NGO comments were sent on 19 January 2006 to a few key persons in different DGs and Cabinets.

On 8 September 2006 the NGOs sent a letter to 5 EU Commissioners and their respective Directors General as well as the Director General of the Legal Service, urging them to proceed with the regulation proposal for an EU mercury export ban.  A press release on the same subject followed on the same day. Complementary to that, the Brazilian NGO, ACPO, also sent a letter to the EU Commissioners on the 10 September 2006. A press release was also sent to the Brazilian media on the issue.

On October 26, 2006 the European Commission proposed a regulation on the banning of exports and the safe storage of metallic mercury. The regulation is accompanied by an Impact assessment and a summary of the Impact assessment. The Environmental and Health NGOs welcomed the long awaited proposal as a clear message to the world, but regreted the fact that the scope did not cover mercury compounds as well as mercury-containing products already or to be regulated in the EU, as well as the late implementation date - see relevant press release.

On January 31, 2007 and in view of the start of the discussions on the EC Proposed Regulation for an EU export ban and safe storage of mercury, the environment and health NGOs called the Environment Committee of the European Parliament and the Council experts for a robust EU Mercury export ban and safe surplus storage regulationAt the European Parliament the rapporteur for the Environment Committee (lead commitee) is Mr. Papadimoulis (GR/GUE) and the rapporteur for the International Trade Committee (providing opinion) is Mr. Holm (SWE/GUE).

The International Trade (INTA) Committee voted (1st reading) on the Mercury export ban regulation proposal on March 21, 2007. The report from the rapporteur (Mr. Holm, GUE/SWE) and the proposed amendments are available in most of the EU languages. In preparation for the vote the NGOs asked MEPs of the INTA committee to support the Rapporteur's report and amendments - the letter was sent on the 20 March 2007.The first reading vote at the INTA committee outcome can be briefly found below:
The proposal for amendments for earlier export date, extension of the scope of the ban to compounds and mercury-containing products already prohibited for sale in the EU market and an import ban was rejected. The committee supported amendments proposing NGO participation at the consultation process, Member states to be providing information more regularly and from 2007 onwards as well as financial support to developing countries and NGOs. The possibility that MS should have the right to impose broader and more stringent bans on the basis of Art. 176 of the EC treaty was also supported.

Ecologistas en Accion (Spanish EEB memeber organisation) attended and gave a presentation at a meeting organized by the Ministry of Environment, Spain and MAYASA, Almadén Spain, on management of mercury, on 28 March 2007.

The ENVI committee first exchange of views, on the mercury export ban, was held on March 22, 2007
The report from the rapporteur (Mr. Papadimoulis, GUE/GR) is available in EN and PL .   The rapporteur (Papadimoulis,GUE/GR) proposed amendments including an export ban by 2009, extending the scope to cinnabar ore, mercury compounds and mercury-containing products prohibited for sale in the EU market, an import ban, only temporary storage of liquid metallic mercury and regular provision of information.  The conservatives did not support neither the earlier date nor expanding the scope. Support was given for an earlier date but rather 2010, from the socialists and liberals since this was the date adopted at the Parliament resolution on mercury in March 2006. Support was also generally given for extending the scope of the export ban to certain compounds and products. No further comments were mentioned with respect to the storage. Finally a discussion took place on the legal basis of the proposed regulation – on whether it should be dual – Art. 133 and Art. 175 – as proposed by the EC, or only based on the environment –Art. 175. A few MEPs who intervened on the issue, proposed that it should rather stay dual since this was the European Court of Justice decision on a relevant regulation. 3 May – First reading Vote at the ENVI committee (documents in EU languages, point 9)

Report and Amendments proposed by rapporteur(PR) 
Amendments proposed by other MEPs (AM)
Amendments to be considered - adopted by INTA committee (AD INTA).

The NGOs sent their comments to the Council Experts and the permanet Representations on the 24 April 2007, and to the ENVI committee on the 26 April 2007.

Voting recommendations from the NGOs were sent on the 2 May 2007.

The Environment Committee of the European Parliament voted on the 3 May 2007, in a rather positive way, asking that mercury compounds with mercury content more than 5% w/w and mercury-containing products prohibited in the EU should be included in the export ban.  However they only asked for this ban to take place by 1.12.2010. Import ban of mercury and certain compounds was also requested by the committee as well as temporary storage solutions for the surplus mercury, since no safe permanent disposal options are still availalbe. The also requested that regular provision of information by the Member States and relative industries should be submitted to the Commission and be made public, including information already from 2007. Exchange of information shall be with all stakeholders and technical assistance shall be provided to developing countries and NGOs. Finally penalties for infringements were requested to be set , as well as promoting awareness on mercury. After clarification from the EP's Legal Service it was decided that the regulation shall only be based on Art. 175 of the EU Treaty, allowing MS to take broader and more stringent national measures on the export ban.

The NGOs press release- 3 May - can be seen here .

Pressure is being put from the NGOs to the Council and Commision - two letters were sent

Letter to Environment Ministers: NGOs call for a wide reaching merucry export ban and safe storage of surplus mercury
[6 June 2007]

Letter to Commissioners: NGOs call for a wide reaching merucry export ban and safe storage of surplus mercury
[8 June 2007]

On June 19th, 2006 the EEB organised a conference "EU Mercury surplus management and mercury-use restrictions in measuring and control equipment”, at the Goethe Institute, Brussels. The first part was dedicated to the storage options for mercury (part of the EC proposed regulation) and the second part to the debate on measuring devices containing mercury. The conference was attended by around 60 persons mainly representing different EU goverenments, as well as industy and environmental and health NGOs. More details about the conference, the presentations, the report from the meeting and participants list can be found here.

The European Parliament voted on the proposed amendments on the 20 June 2007. The outcome of the vote was very positive. The Parliament asked for extended export ban scope to include mercury compounds (with mercury content more than 5% w/w), cinnabar, and mercury containing products which are banned in the EU. Date of export ban proposed was the 1 December 2010. An important ban of metallic mercury, cinnabar and mercury compounds (with mercury content more than 5% w/w) was also proposed by 1 December 2010.
On the storage, the Parliament asked that metallic mercury is only temporarily stored in salt mines or in above ground facilities. A fund shall be set up, from fees provided by industry, which will be used for the treatment and final disposal of metallic mercury once a safe final disposal method is in place.
They further asked that Member States shall provide periodically detailed information about the movement of mercury and its compounds, to the EC. Relevant industry (chlor-alkali and others) should also provide data to the commission.
Finally Parliament asked for the legal basis to be based on Art. 175, therefore on environment, allowing Member states to adopt measures related to the export ban sooner , and in a stricter form if relevant.
The NGOs reacted positively to this development – Press release was sent on the 20 June - http://www.zeromercury.org/press/070620ExportBanPlenaryNGOsPR.pdf

European Parliament text as voted can be found here.

The Environment Council, met on the 28 June, trying to reach a political agreement on the regulation. After long discussions, the Council agreed that the export ban should only cover metallic mercury, by 1 July 2011.
On the storage, NGOs were cautiously pleased. The Council proposed that metallic mercury considered as waste may be stored temporarily or permanently in salt mines or deep underground formations , and/or temporarily on special above ground facilities. However, in addition, they decided that requirements for storage facilities and the criteria to accept storage of liquid metallic mercury must be set and adopted before any final disposal can occur. The Commission would have to submit a report reviewing research on safe disposal options including the ‘solidification’ of liquid mercury, one year before the export ban start. The Commission then, may present a proposal to revise the regulation as soon as possible and before two years after the ban begins. Depending on the outcome of the research, permanent underground storage of liquid mercury may still have to be seriously reconsidered.
Council did not ask for periodical submission of information from MS to the Commission, nor additional data to be provided by industry to the Commission. In addition, the decided that legal basis of the directive should be based on both on articles 133 (commerce) and 175 (environment) of the Treaty, contrary to what has been suggested by the legal services of the Council and Parliament.
NGOs reacted with a press release to this result, on 28 June 2007 - http://www.zeromercury.org/press/070628NGOsonEnvCouncilExportBanPolAgreement.pdf

Text as agreed at the Environment Council (28 June 2007) can be found here.

Finalisation and adoption of the Common Position of the Council - which includes the political agreement (28 June) took place on the 25 September 2008. Final text can be found here

The EU Regulation 1102/2008 on Banning of exports of metallic mercury and certain mercury compounds and mixtures and the safe storage of metallic mercury was published on the Official Journal of the EC on the 22 October 2008.

On 22 October 2008 the European Parliament and Council adopted the Regulation on the banning of exports and the safe storage of metallic mercury (Regulation (EC) N° 1102/2008). As a consequence of this export ban (from 15 March 2011) a considerable amount of surplus mercury – in particular resulting from the voluntary phase out of the mercury cell technology in the chlorine industry - will be available on the European Market and which should be prevented from re-entering in the European Market.

According to the regulation, metallic mercury from certain sources or applications (e.g. chlor-alkali industry, gained from the cleaning of natural gas) has to be considered as waste and adequately stored. Possible storage options are salt mines or deep underground, hard rock formations for permanent or temporary storage or appropriate above-ground facilities for temporary storage. On the basis of the regulation (Article 4 §3) the Commission needs to develop requirements for storage and disposal facilities as well as acceptance criteria for metallic mercury to amend Annexes I, II and III of Directive 1999/31/EC on the landfill of waste. Against this background the European Commission contracted a consultant, BiPRO GmbH, Germany to carry out the study “Requirements for facilities and acceptance criteria for the disposal of metallic mercury”. This study will look at the possibility for solidification and at best practice in Europe and beyond. A questionnaire has been developed by the consultant asking for input for the acceptability criteria. To this respect, the consultant contacted EEB, among others, and EEB sent a filled in questionnaire on 6 July 2009.

The draft final report was presented and discussed on 20 November 2009 at a meeting organised by the EC in Brussels.  After the meeting comments were invited by the EC by 15 December 2009– EEB ‘s comments on the BiPRO study can be found here.

A Revised DRAFT Final report was sent on the 20 January 2010, considering the comments provided previously. Further EEB comments have now been sent to the consultant and EC on 2 February 2010, as they can be found here.

A final revised report , is now online – at http://www.bipro.de/mercury/sub/workshop.html