EEP European Environmental Press

Ban on EU mercury exports


Source: EEP European Environmental Press

The European Commission last month proposed legislation to ban all European Union exports of mercury from 2011. The ban forms a key part of the EU's strategy for reducing global exposure to mercury, which is highly toxic to both humans and the environment. The export ban will significantly reduce global supply and thereby also emissions of the heavy metal into the environment. The proposed Regulation requires mercury that is no longer used in the chlor-alkali industry or that is produced in certain other industrial operations to be put into safe storage once the export prohibition takes effect in July 2011. The Commission has organised an international mercury conference on 26-27 October in Brussels to promote global action, including the possible development of a legally binding international agreement, to reduce human and environmental exposure.

Mercury and its compounds are highly toxic to humans, animals and ecosystems. High doses can be fatal to humans, but even relatively low doses can seriously affect the nervous system and have been linked with possible harmful effects on the cardiovascular, immune and reproductive systems. Mercury persists in the environment, where it can change into methyl mercury, its most toxic form. Methyl mercury readily passes through both the placenta and the blood-brain barrier, so exposure of women of child-bearing age and of children is of greatest concern.

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