Mercury 2013 creates launchpad for new UNEP Minamata Convention

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The organisers of the Mercury 2013 International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant (ICMGP) have described this year's event as a triumph - with over 900 delegates from over 65 countries, 417 oral presentations and 530 posters, the week-long Edinburgh event was a hive of activity.

The conference covered all issues relating to mercury and its potential negative effects on the environment and comprised a record 7 parallel sessions running twice a day all week. The theme of the conference was ‘Science informing global policy’ and as such provided a launchpad for the new UNEP Minamata Convention on Mercury, drafted in Geneva earlier this year. Many of the papers and posters concentrated on how the text of the new convention could be put into practice through research and development activities.

Expressing her delight with the success of the event, Conference Chair Dr Lesley Sloss said: “It is essential that political decisions are based on sound science, so it is very encouraging to see such a large volume of work in the field of mercury research.

“Many of the most impressive presentations were given by young researchers and students, which is very encouraging because these are the people that will endorse changes and monitor mercury for compliance with the treaty.

“As a Scot, I am especially proud that Edinburgh has been the focus of global attention; a lot of hard work went into the organisation of this event and I am extremely grateful to all concerned. As a result of this effort, delegate feedback has been extremely positive; not just for the Conference but also for the hospitality and charm of this beautiful historic city.”

The conference began with a free open day at which members of the public were able to learn more about mercury and even have their breath and hair tested for this toxic element. This was followed by a press conference, highlights of which can be viewed at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyVvXhYNHyQ

The conference itself was launched with welcoming addresses from Mr Paul Wheelhouse, Scottish Minister for the Environment and Climate Change; Mr Anders Flanking (via Loic Viatte), State Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Sweden; and Mr David Piper, Department Head, UNEP Chemicals Branch.

Naturally, the major sources of mercury emissions, such as coal incineration and artisanal gold mining, were the subjects of greatest attention, but with so many presentations it would be impossible to summarise the Conference in a single article. However, several agenda items created the highest levels of interest. For example, the panel discussions on mercury in dental amalgams and vaccines led to lively debates and Dr Pal Weihi's presentation drew a large crowd and a film crew. Dr Weihi described the health effects of pilot whale meat consumption in the Faroe Islands and explained that a reduction in dietary whale meat has led to lower mercury levels in the Faroese people.

One of the presentations which gathered the most interest was given by Prof. Philippe Grandjean. He described a research project which studied a Bristol (UK) cohort, and showed that IQ deficits at school age linked to prenatal methylmercury exposure may be much greater in subjects which have mutations in certain genes. As a result it appears that there is a high degree of variability in susceptibility to methylmercury exposure which has very important health and environment implications. Prof Grandjean recorded a short informative summary of his work which can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtP4gSl94SY

The next ICMGP will take place in Jeju, Korea during 2015 and the following event will take place during 2017 in New England, USA.

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