Groundbreaking mercury treaty adopted by 140 countries (Update)

Jan 19, 2013 by Nina Larson
An amalgam of mercury and gold —the toxic metal is used to extract the gold particles from the silt—in Delta Uno camp, department of Madre de Dios, southeast Lima, Peru, in the forest bordering with Brazil on November 16, 2009.

More than 140 countries agreed Saturday on a ground-breaking treaty to rein in the use and emission of health-hazardous mercury, the UN said, but environmental activists lamented it did not go far enough.

The world's first legally binding treaty on mercury was reached after a week of thorny talks and ends four years of heated discussions on how to cut global emission levels of the toxic heavy metal, which poses risks to human health and the environment.

"This was a herculean task .. but we have succeeded," Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), told reporters in Geneva.

The treaty has been named the Minamata Convention on Mercury, in honour of the Japanese town where inhabitants for decades have suffered the consequences of serious mercury contamination.

It will be signed in Minamata in October and will take effect once ratified by 50 countries—something organisers expect will take three to four years.

Mercury, also known as quicksilver, is found in products ranging from electrical switches, thermometers and light-bulbs, to amalgam dental fillings and even facial creams. Large amounts of the heavy metal are released from small-scale gold mining, coal-burning power plants, metal smelters and cement production.

"It is quite remarkable how much mercury in a sense has entered into use in our lives... We've been creating a terrible legacy," Steiner said.

"Mercury accumulates in the food chain through fish... It is released through coal fired power stations and it travels sometimes thousands of kilometres. It affects the Inuit in Canada just as it affects the small-scale artisanal gold miner somewhere in southern Africa," he said.

Serious mercury poisoning affects the body's immune system and development of the brain and nervous system, posing the greatest risk to foetuses and infants.

The treaty sets a phase-out date of 2020 for a long line of products including mercury thermometers, blood pressure measuring devices, most batteries, switches, some kinds of fluorescent lamps and soaps and cosmetics.

Activists wear mock lamps as headgear as they distribute leaflets to vendors and consumers along a street in Manila on October 22, 2009 to alert people to the dangers of dumping or burning mercury lamp waste. Delegations from some 140 countries have agreed to adopt a ground-breaking treaty limiting the use of health-hazardous mercury, the Swiss foreign ministry said on Saturday.

It makes exceptions, however, for some large medical measuring devices where no mercury-free alternatives exist.

In a controversial move, it also excluded vaccines that use mercury as a preservative.

The risk from these vaccines is considered low and for many developing nations, removing them would entail losing access to vaccines altogether, Tim Kasten, head of UNEP's chemicals division explained.

Amid pressure from dentist groups, the treaty also did not provide a cut-off date for the use of dental fillings using mercury amalgam, but did agree that the product should be phased down.

The text gives governments 15 years to end all mercury mining.

While welcoming the treaty, a number of non-governmental groups said they were disappointed it did not go further.

The text, many said, fell short in addressing the greatest sources of mercury in the environment: artisanal small-scale gold mining, which directly threatens the health of the some 10-15 million people working in this field and contaminates water and air, as well as emissions from coal-burning power plants.

"We're disappointed... The two biggest sources of mercury have only weak controls on them," Joe DiGangi, a science advisor with the IPEN advocacy group, told AFP.

For coal-fired power plants, the treaty calls only for control and reduction of mercury emissions "where feasible", which is "vague and very discretional," he said.

As for small gold mining activities, using mercury will still be allowed, meaning imports and exports of the metal for this process will be legal, and governments will only be required to control the activity if they deem it "more than insignificant—whatever that means," DiGangi said.

Richard Gutierrez, the head of Ban Toxics!, agreed.

"With the current text, it seems the mercury use in (small-scale gold mining) may go on indefinitely," he said in a statement.

Steiner acknowledged the criticism but stressed the treaty "is a dynamic instrument" and would evolve over time to address all concerns.

Switzerland and Norway, which initiated the process a decade ago, with Japan pledged an initial $3.0 million (2.2 million euros) to get things started.

Once up and running, the treaty will provide funds to ease the transition away from mercury through the UN's existing Global Environment Facility (GEF), and probably also a second mechanism, organisers said.

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User comments : 12

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frajo
3.3 / 5 (12) Jan 19, 2013
Minamata, Japan, in honour of the town's inhabitants who for decades have suffered the consequences of serious mercury contamination
Soft words replacing the truth.

"the Minamata Convention, after the Japanese city that, during the 1950s, was the scene of one of the world's worst mercury poisonings, killing 1,700 people and impacting on many more"
See http://www.ipsnew...-levels/ for more details.

Btw, did you know that the Bush government was opposed to this treaty?
Tausch
3 / 5 (2) Jan 19, 2013
Willful indifference resists all efforts.
Tausch
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 19, 2013
The child's version of 'why' after every sentence.
'Doesn't interest me'
The motivation is not curiosity.

(Explanation for the above comment)
FrankHerbert
2.1 / 5 (18) Jan 19, 2013
Well it's only a matter of time before ryggesogn2 tries to equate the horrors of mining gold in africa to using CFLs in the US. Just wait. It's coming.
jonnyboy
3.3 / 5 (12) Jan 19, 2013
140 out of 192 approve the treaty but it only takes 50 out of 192 to make it law? rule of the minority continues at the UN.
FrankHerbert
2.4 / 5 (20) Jan 19, 2013
Are you serious?
You obviously don't realize how many votes are 190-2, and are denied. The US and Israel block more votes in the UN than even entire continents.
Shootist
3.6 / 5 (17) Jan 19, 2013
Israel doesn't have a veto so Israel blocks zero votes at the UN. Bias much sockpuppet frank?
FrankHerbert
2.4 / 5 (20) Jan 19, 2013
Shootist, you're free to look it up. You are correct that Israel does not have a veto vote, but on votes in which the US uses its veto power, Israel nearly always votes with the US. Many of these votes are 190-2 i.e., the US and Israel vs. the world. I doubt you'd be able to find a single vote that is 190-2 or 191-1 where the US was not the nation using its veto.

As much as conservatives like to whine about the UN, the US and Israel abuse it far more than any other nations.

Also, I take offense at being called an anti-semite, though you were too much of a coward to actually use those words.
Estevan57
Jan 19, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
obama_socks
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 19, 2013
That's right. FrankHerbert the sock puppet of Theghostofotto1923 is a racist, a bigot, an anti-Semite, a homophobe, a congenital liar whenever Blotto feels it necessary for his sock puppet(s) to lie about people. PLUS the sock puppet takes parts of comments out of context, twists the meanings, truncates them, adds words or letters, removes words or letters, and likes to be an asshole in general...all that under control of the sock puppeteer, Theghostofotto1923 aka Blotto, who also does all of those things.

According to a female commenter, (Pussycat_eyes), FrankHerbert/Theghostofotto1923 is suffering from DISSOCIATIVE IDENTITY DISORDER aka MULTIPLE PERSONALITY DISORDER, which is a mental disorder characterized by AT LEAST TWO DISTINCT and relatively enduring identities or dissociated personality states that alternately control a person's behavior, and is accompanied by memory impairment for important information. FrankHerbert/Theghostofotto1923 has many more than two sock puppets.
cantdrive85
4.2 / 5 (10) Jan 20, 2013
But the use of mercury in vaccines will continue unabated, sweet!
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.3 / 5 (14) Jan 20, 2013
According to a female commenter, (Pussycat_eyes), FrankHerbert/Theghostofotto1923 is suffering from DISSOCIATIVE IDENTITY DISORDER aka MULTIPLE PERSONALITY DISORDER, which is a mental disorder characterized by AT LEAST TWO DISTINCT and relatively enduring identities or dissociated personality states that alternately control a person's behavior, and is accompanied by memory impairment for important information. FrankHerbert/Theghostofotto1923 has many more than two sock puppets.
Sorry pussytard crossposting is against physorg guidelines. But so is most of the flooding bullshit you post.

No matter - you don't care about anyone here but yourself and the opportunity to lie, and flood, and pretend, and playact, and pollute, and vandalize, and insult, and degrade, and abuse. Do you?

You don't need a public venue to do this you know - why don't you just email yourself?
RitchieGuy01
1.6 / 5 (7) Jan 20, 2013
Dayum. . . . . .dat TheGhostofOtto1923 boyfriend of mine STILL pretending all da time in physorg dat he be da straight hetersexual man. But he really be gay like me cuz he turned me on after he sends me a PM and invites me to meet him. Then when we be together he invites me to stay at a motel with him in the same room. Well, I didn't know from nothin so I says yes. Then in the motel room, he be pulling down my underwear and puttin his mouth on my U know what. Well, was I ever surprised. . . .but I let him do it, and then later Otto wants me to poke his ass with my U know what. So I did. I got used to the awful smell after we wuz together a few weeks. Now Otto pretends he don't know me and makes his sockpuppet FrankHerbert and his other ones insult me. I don't understand what be going on in his weird brain. Now he looks to be wanting a different man to try and turn him gay also.
Otto told me me loves me and wanted to wait til same sex marriage is legal before we can ties the knot.
RitchieGay01
Jan 20, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.