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New Mercury Treaty agreed in Geneva; WECF regrets many exemptions

The Mercury "Minamata" Convention, a new international legally binding instrument, agreed to at 5th meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in Geneva last Friday, has been in the making for many years, and was badly needed. However, WECF regrets the many exemptions, which weakens the treaty

22.01.2013 |WECF




The Mercury "Minamata" Convention, a new international legally binding instrument, was agreed to at the fifth meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in Geneva, January 18,  2013. The Mercury Treaty has been in the making for many years, and it is badly needed. However, WECF regrets the many exemptions, which weakens the treaty. NGOs say that the Treaty is not likely to reduce global mercury releases, and dishonors the victims of the Minamata tragedy.

The Mercury Convention was agreed to at the fifth meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee. The Committee, chaired by Fernando Lugris of Uruguay, will present the Convention text to the UNEP Governing Council for adoption on 18 - 22 of February 2013. Due to many exemptions and compromises, NGOs released a statement in which they acknowledge the need for the Mercury convention, but regret that the convention has turned out too weak.

The Mercury Treaty - to supposedly protect people’s health - sets 2020 as a phase-out date for a long line of products which currently contain Mercury. Unfortunately, the treaty excludes effective measures to phase-out sanctioning the the by far greatest sources of mercury in the environment; its use in mining, power plants and dental fillings. Small-scale gold-mining and coal-burning power plants will keep on polluting air, water, and land. It threatens the health and lives of about 10-15 Million people working in small-scale gold-mining. Mercury will also still be used in dental filling around the world, solely accompanied by a suggestion to phase down use of such fillings. With such weak decisions and resolutions, NGOs criticize the treaty as ineffective in reducing global mercury levels and mercury contamination.

Mercury, commonly known as quicksilver, is a highly toxic heavy metal. It accumulates in the food chain and can severely affect humans, especially those consuming a lot of seafood. The first instance of mercury poisoning was identified in the fishing village of Minamata, Japan. In the 1950s mercury compounds were dumped into Minamata Bay by a petrochemical company. The resulting illnesses, called Minamata disease, sickened adults and led to severe deformities in newborns. Some 3,000 people contracted Minamata disease and more than 1,700 died, according to the Japanese Government. In memory of this tragedy, the new Mercury Convention was named after Minimata. However, NGOs decry the naming as dishonoring the victims, due to the ineffectiveness of the treaty.



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