Friday, November 08, 2013

Pollution: UN agency welcomes US ratification of treaty to tackle mercury pollution

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director(left centre) with the Japanese Government officials in the city of Kumamoto. Photo: UNEP

UN - 7 November 2013 – The United Nations environment agency today welcomed the ratification by the United States of the Minamata Convention, which seeks to bring down emissions and releases of mercury.

The Convention, which was adopted on 10 October in the Japanese city of Kumamoto, was named after the place where thousands of people were poisoned by mercury in the mid-20th century. It has since been signed by 93 countries, and the US is the first country to ratify it. The Convention will come into force when 50 countries have ratified it.

“UNEP has been proud to facilitate and support the treaty negotiations over the past four years because almost everyone in the world – be they small-scale gold miners, expectant mothers or waste-handlers in developing countries – will benefit from its provisions,” said the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner.

“I would like to thank the United States for this important act that assists in paving the way for a new era on international cooperation on mercury pollution and global efforts to lift a serious health and environmental threat from the lives of people everywhere.”

Mercury’s impacts on the human nervous system have been well known since Greek and Roman times. Its potential impacts include impaired thyroid and liver function, irritability, tremors, disturbances to vision, memory loss and cardiovascular problems.

The Minamata Convention provides for controls and reductions across a range of products, processes and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted. The treaty also addresses the direct mining of mercury, export and import of the metal and safe storage of mercury waste.

The treaty also calls for boosting medical care, pinpointing populations at risk, and improving training of health care professionals in identifying and treating mercury-related effects.