New convention tackles dangers posed by mercury

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Artisanal small scale mining is responsible for up to 35% of global emission of mercury into the environment. Photo: Global Environment Facility

A convention that protects people and the environment from the harmful effects of mercury has come into force, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced on Wednesday.

Seventy-four countries have committed to the Minimata Convention on Mercury, which means they are now legally bound to address concerns posed by the heavy metal.

The convention is named for a Japanese city, site of the most severe mercury poisoning disaster in history due to the dumping of industrial wastewaters into the local bay.

Dianne Penn reports.

Mercury has been recognized as being particularly harmful to unborn children and infants, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) explained.

It is among the top 10 chemicals that endanger health and the environment, as exposure can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system.

Mercury  persists in the environment and builds up in human and animal tissue, particularly in fish.

There is no safe level of exposure, and no cures for mercury poisoning.

Countries that are party to the Minimata Convention will implement measures such as banning new mercury mines, phasing out existing ones, and regulating its use in the production of everyday items such as cosmetics, batteries and teeth fillings.

They also will work to reduce emissions as side effects from other industrial processes, such as coal-fired power stations and waste incineration.   

UNEP chief Erik Solheim said the new convention "shows that our global work to protect our planet and its people can continue to bring nations together."

Dianne Penn, United Nations.

Duration: 1’07″


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