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Nations agree on global, legally binding treaty on mercury emissions: Minamata Convention on Mercury

19 January 2013

At the conclusion of the International Negotiating Committee on Mercury (INC5) meeting in Geneva (earlier post), nations agreed on a global, legally-binding treaty to prevent mercury emissions and releases. The Committee, chaired by Fernando Lugris of Uruguay, will present the Convention text to the UNEP Governing Council for adoption next month.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury—named after a city in Japan where serious health damage occurred as a result of mercury pollution in the mid-20th Century—provides controls and reductions across a range of products, processes and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted. These range from medical equipment such as thermometers and energy-saving light bulbs to the mining, cement and coal-fired power sectors.

The treaty, which has been four years in negotiation and which will be open for signature at a special meeting in Japan in October, also addresses the direct mining of mercury, export and import of the metal and safe storage of waste mercury.

Pinpointing populations at risk, boosting medical care and better training of health care professionals in identifying and treating mercury-related effects will also form part of the new agreement.

Mercury and its various compounds have a range of serious health impacts including brain and neurological damage especially among the young. Others include kidney damage and damage to the digestive system. Victims can suffer memory loss and language impairment alongside many other well documented problems.

Initial funding to fast track action until the new treaty comes into force in the expected three to five years’ time has been pledged by Japan, Norway and Switzerland.

Support for developing countries is also expected from the Global Environment Facility and a programme once the convention is operational.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) which convened the negotiations among over 140 member states in Geneva, said at the close: “After complex and often all night sessions here in Geneva, nations have today laid the foundations for a global response to a pollutant whose notoriety has been recognized for well over a century.”

The decision to launch negotiations was taken by environment ministers at the 2009 session of the UNEP Governing Council and the final and fifth negotiation took place this week in Geneva.

The scope of the new treaty which puts in controls and also reduction measures in respect to mercury is as follows:

Products. Governments have agreed on a range of mercury containing products whose production, export and import will be banned by 2020. These include:

  • Batteries, except for button cell batteries used in implantable medical devices
  • Switches and relays
  • Certain types of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)
  • Mercury in cold cathode fluorescent lamps and external electrode fluorescent lamps
  • Soaps and cosmetics

Certain kinds of non-electronic medical devices such as thermometers and blood pressure devices are also included for phase-out by 2020. Governments approved exceptions for some large measuring devices where currently there are no mercury-free alternatives:

  • Vaccines where mercury is used as a preservative have been excluded from the treaty as have products used in religious or traditional activities.
  • Delegates agreed to a phase-down of the use of dental fillings using mercury amalgam.

Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining. The booming price of gold in recent years has triggered a significant growth in small-scale mining where mercury is used to separate gold from the ore-bearing rock. Emissions and releases from such operations and from coal-fired power stations represent the biggest source of mercury pollution world-wide.

Workers and their families involved in small-scale gold mining are exposed to mercury pollution in several ways including through inhalation during the smelting. Mercury is also being released into river systems from these small-scale operations where it can contaminate fish, the food chain and people downstream.

Governments agreed that the treaty will require countries to draw up strategies to reduce the amount of mercury used by small-scale miners. Nations with artisanal and small-scale gold mining operations will draw up national plans within three years of the treaty entering into force to reduce and if possible eliminate the use of mercury in such operations. Public awareness campaigns and support for mercury-free alternatives will also be part of the plans.

From Power Stations to Cement Factories. The new treaty will control mercury emissions and releases from various large industrial facilities ranging from coal-fired power stations and industrial boilers to certain kinds of smelters handling for example zinc and gold. Waste incineration and cement clinker facilities are also on the list.

Nations agreed to install the Best Available Technologies on new power plants and facilities with plans to be drawn up to bring emissions down from existing ones.

The negotiations were initially looking to set thresholds on the size of plants or level of emissions to be controlled. Delegates decided this week to defer this until the first meeting of the treaty after it comes into force.

The international negotiators selected the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to fund implementation of the new Mercury Convention. GEF will be the lead organization charged with raising and disbursing grants for projects and programs to reduce and eliminate mercury pollution.

January 19, 2013 in Emissions, Policy | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)

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I see this as a positive development. The Cement and Coal industry in the US have long avoided mercury emission control.

The Cement plant industry have even resorted to blackmails to delay emission controls. Suggesting to move plants to China if they don't get their way.

When the public focus is turned toward them a plant can switch to low mercury coal and limestone, but when the focus is turned away then they can go back to business as usual.

The key to them getting something done must have been the ABSENCE of Obama, Nancy Pelosi, their entourages and lengthy speeches read off of teleprompters.

“I see this as a positive development. ”

So you think that excessive regulation that will provide no benefit is positive? If you can not actually find anyone hurt with current regulation then they are sufficient.

Twit P, please take 5 milligrams of methyl mercury and then tell us it's such a great thing to have around.

If only we could convince all young women to not drink ethanol, inhale nicotine, or stick a needle in their arm to enjoy the rush while pretending not be pregnant. We would have fewer fetal syndromes.

E-P is that special kind of stupid that say things like plutonium are the most dangerous substance in the world while the actual toxicity is the same as nicotine.

E-P is a Luddite with anti-coal agenda. He makes up reasons to be against coal. No one is being poisoned by mercury in countries like the US where the large emissions of mercury have been banned. No children even have a level of mercury associated lower IQ.

Next E-P talks about haze some place he has never lived. I have lived there and the natural beauty is spectacular. Never noticed haze. When I lived in California I did notice valley smog every day. Some even blame coal-based energy use for health problems. Of course there were no coal plants.

On the other hand, having reliable supply of electricity is a very nice thing to have a around. Clean air and cheap power.

Trigger warning:  persons likely to laugh out loud when stupidity is skewered should put their drinks down and swallow before reading further.

If only we could convince all young women to not drink ethanol
They are also advised not to eat many species of game fish in any quantity.  Interestingly, ethanol inhibits catalase and reduces the conversion of Hg to Hg+2, which reduces bio-accumulation.  Not that young women should be exposing themselves to elemental mercury either.
E-P is that special kind of stupid that say things like plutonium are the most dangerous substance in the world
Twit P wrote this in all apparent seriousness about one of the most pro-nuclear bloggers in the world.  He is the special kind of stupid which believes its own propaganda.

But that was just the opening act:

E-P is a Luddite with anti-coal agenda.
That must be why I suggested that Beijing switch from air combustion of powdered and chunk coal to coal gasification and piping of town gas, and use powdered olivine in the syngas cleanup to capture both H2S and CO2.  Because I'm "anti-coal".

The Twit is an apologist (I suspect, a paid advocate) for the coal-burning industry in the USA.  Anything that raises its costs or forces its business model to change (especially having to clean up its mess) is his target; this includes measures to clean up air in other nations which might create pressure to adopt them here.  Quote a paper showing that visibility increased some 25 miles the day after the 8/2003 blackout shut down many coal plants, and he goes off babbling nonsense like this:

Another way of say this is that a trained observer would not be able to detect a 10% differnce.
You can't make this up, folks.  This is word salad at its crispest, totally 100% logic-free.

Thank you E-P.

An "anti-coal" agenda. I think that's the same as saying a "pro-continued-existence-of-human-civilization" agenda. E-P for the win.

I'm hardly anti-coal.  I think that using crushed olivine to scavenge CO2 in a coal-to-hydrogen process (helping to drive the water-gas shift toward H2 by removing the CO2) would be a great thing.  Take the carbon out of the ground, grab the energy, put the carbon back in the ground.  As long as you aren't dumping crap in the air or water, it's all good.

Here is the link again for those who still might be concerned with mercury.

“Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals”

The results for mercury are summarized:

http://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/Mercury_BiomonitoringSummary.html

The UCS opened their testimony before congress saying they were not anti-nuke then proceeded to making false and misleading statements about how we make power in the US with nukes.

So when E-P says he is not anti-coal and then proceeds to make up stuff about coal he is not very credible.

“"pro-continued-existence-of-human-civilization" ”

Currently human-civilization depends on coal and we have been doing very well. Now India and China are becoming dependent on coal. I suspect with time they will learn how to use coal like we do in the west. No mercury problem, no haze problem, and restoring land after mining.

The UCS opened their testimony before congress saying they were not anti-nuke then proceeded to making false and misleading statements about how we make power in the US with nukes.

So when E-P says he is not anti-coal and then proceeds to make up stuff about coal he is not very credible.
He missed where I'm supposedly part of the UCS.  I missed that part too.  Seems to be just a bit of a non sequitur there.

There also seems to be just a bit of a disconnect in his assertions.  If I'm "making stuff up about coal", I must also be making up the EPA and CDC pages on mercury.  Goodness knows what else I'd have to make up to carry that off, though I'm sure Twit P will tell us.  Paranoid types are good at spinning fantastic narratives.

The results for mercury are summarized:

http://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/Mercury_BiomonitoringSummary.html
Definitely scrutinize that page, especially where it mentions the "Boston Naming Test".  The implication is that infant cord-blood mercury levels fall on a distribution, and a statistically significant number of those are high enough to show negative neurological effects.  Eliminating the 50% of human mercury emissions in the USA which come from coal would have a huge effect on the number of cases out on the right tail of that statistical distribution.
Currently human-civilization depends on coal and we have been doing very well.
Had we depended on uranium instead, we'd be doing much better (we were headed that way until the creation of the NRC).  Uranium is a replacement for steam coal (about 90% of US coal consumption); just the reduction in rail traffic from a replacement would save quite a few lives every year.  If the Twit was actually in the business he claims to be in, he'd be enthusiastic about the substitution.

Instead, he rails at people who promote nuclear energy for being "anti-coal Luddites".  All I want is for coal to be held to the same air and water emissions standards that nuclear meets.  I even suggest ways to do it.  You just can't make this stuff up.

EP at least has some technical education and some perspective. Unfortunately, there is a whole coterie of gas bag phonies who are too stupid to propose anything of value but depend on him to provide some basis for their exsiting paranoia,and disdain for civilization.

There are green idiots who think killing off 6 and half billion people, and then letting the several hundred million remnant dwell in caves is somehow good and something worth doing. Provided of course they are in that remnant, and are the Kings, of course.

EP gives undue credit to the UCS cynics who have created a great gig for themselves; after liquidating the truly earnest but politically inept scientists originally there. These ultimate cynical phonies fill their ricebowls to overflowing, while producing nothing but fear and techno-babble.

Fission Nuclear power plant designs are now what they should have been all along. But alas, were not. That was then, and this is now.

The coming generation of such Fission plants, if built, can serve to provide mankind a clean energy source until Fusion power is fully ready to close the question of Energy completely. The UCS phonies still demagogue against them, chosing to line their pockets with fear-induced contributions, rather than propose useful solutions.

OTOH, Kit P recognizes that the long forty plus year effort to make Mankind and his civilization coexist with the Earth, has essentially been completed in the USA. The Waters are now clean. The Air everywhere save two metro areas is now certifiably clean. The two cleaner, but still remaining dirty air metro areas are getting cleaner every day. The day is not far off when the job will be finished here.

The two appear to be merely arguing about the appropriate time to de-mobilize, after finishing the War on Pollution.

I love taking these clowns apart, I really do.

EP at least has some technical education and some perspective. Unfortunately, there is a whole coterie of gas bag phonies who are too stupid to propose anything of value but depend on him to provide some basis for their exsiting paranoia,and disdain for civilization.
Oh, right:  like anyone who follows me (rabid fission-phile, techno-fixer, geoengineering proponent) would disdain civilization.  I'd ask you to listen to yourself, but if you did we'd miss out on all the accidental comedy.
EP gives undue credit to the UCS cynics
Really, where's that?  Twit P lumps me with the UCS despite our near-opposite positions, and I've thought they were idiots since my teens.
Fission Nuclear power plant designs are now what they should have been all along.
I'll take issue with that, too.  Water-cooled fission plants are now what they should have been by the mid-1980's.  By now, they should have been supplanted by fast-spectrum reactors on a U/Pu cycle and thermal-spectrum molten-salt reactors on Th/U.  Here's the 1971 MSR study which should have put water-cooled reactors to bed by the turn of the century.

Without pressurized fluids, there is no risk of major coolant leakage nor catastrophic structural failure and explosion.  There goes the big fear scenario, eliminated by physics.  That's where we'd likely have been if not for Milton Shaw.

Kit P recognizes that the long forty plus year effort to make Mankind and his civilization coexist with the Earth, has essentially been completed in the USA.
Yet they're still blasting entire mountains away and having catastrophic floods of toxic slurried coal ash, with the Twit's tacit approval.  His "clean" plants continue to dump toxic mercury into the air, in addition to the CO2 he denies is a problem.  He rails against measures which would address those problems (wet-slagging gasifiers don't create the fine ash which can flow like mud, activated carbon can scrub 99+% of heavy metals from syngas, olivine can chemically capture CO2 as carbonate).  You praise him, while he argues for today's status quo against exactly the sort of advances you're also implicitly lauding.

A little irony is good for the blood.

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