EU protects citizens from toxic mercury, paves the way for global action
Today at the UN headquarters in New York, the European Union has triggered the entry into force of the global treaty aimed at reducing exposure to mercury.
The ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, confirms Europe's leading role to protect citizens' health and the environment around the world.
Upon initiative from the EU, the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the new global treaty on mercury was negotiated and concluded in 2013. The EU has one of the most ambitious policies for protection against mercury. However, as 40 to 80 % of mercury deposited in Europe comes from mercury emissions in other parts of the world, strong international action is needed to protect the health of our citizens.
Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs said: “The new global treaty on mercury will help protect millions of people all over the world from exposure to this toxic heavy metal. With ratification the EU has delivered the decisive bit and triggered its entry into force. This is a great success of EU green diplomacy. It highlights Europe's commitment to strong and concerted international action.'
The Minamata Convention, which is named after the location of the worst-ever case of mercury pollution, will not only tighten environmental standards worldwide, but also help create a level playing-field, as all major economies will apply environmental requirements similar to those already in force in the EU.
Pregnant women, infants and children are at particular risk from mercury in the food-chain, and the Convention will bring about significant decreases to their exposure in the long term. For example, by prohibiting the use of dental amalgam for these vulnerable categories.
Given the instrumental role played by the EU in the negotiations on the Minamata Convention, its content is inspired to a great extent by Union legislation. The Mercury Regulation also sets rules that put the EU firmly on track for becoming the first mercury-free economy. This includes putting an end to all uses of mercury in industrial processes and prohibiting any new use of mercury in products and industry, unless proven that it is needed for the protection of health and the environment.
The first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury will take place from 24-29 September 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland. The High-Level Segment on 28 and 29 September will celebrate the commitment of the international community to the Minamata Convention.
Mercury is a chemical with neurotoxic effects, used in industrial processes and in a variety of products like batteries or thermometers. Mercury released to the environment enters the food chain where it accumulates mainly in fish. Exposure to high levels of mercury can cause harm to the brain, lungs, kidneys and immune system.
Over the past twenty years the EU has developed a comprehensive body of legislation covering all aspects of the mercury lifecycle, from primary mining to waste disposal, including measures on trade, products containing mercury and mercury pollution.