New Treaty on Mercury

Bulletin of the World Health Organization, March 2013 | Go to article overview

New Treaty on Mercury


A new treaty to reduce the harmful effects of mercury for human health and the environment was approved by more than 140 countries in January.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury--named after the Japanese city that suffered a human health and environmental disaster as a result of mercury pollution half a century ago--provides controls across a range of products, processes and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted.

Mercury, a heavy metal, is of particular concern because it travels long distances in the atmosphere and persists in the environment. It also accumulates in ecosystems, including in fish.

In humans, mercury exposure can have serious health consequences, including permanent damage to the developing nervous system in children. It can also pass from mothers to their unborn children.

The treaty will be open for signature at a ceremony in Japan in October and will come into force once it has been ratified by 50 countries.

Most mercury emissions are from coal-fired power plants, small-scale gold mining and some other industry processes. Within three years of the treaty entering into force, countries should draw up plans to reduce and, if possible, eliminate the use of mercury in small-scale gold mining operations. …

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