To date, 92 countries have signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury treaty — the first new global convention on environment and health in nearly a decade, according to the UN Environment Programme. The agreement still must be ratified by at least 50 countries that signed the treaty, AP reports. The US planned to sign the treaty, but was unable to last week due to the government shutdown, AP reports.
Under provisions of the Minamata Convention, governments agreed to ban the production, import and export of a range of mercury-containing products by 2020. Other items that do not have non-mercury alternatives including switches and relays, some soaps and cosmetics, batteries except for button cell batteries used in implantable medical devices, and thermometers, will be phased into the ban, UNEP says.
Mercury is a naturally occurring element. However, it is one the top 10 chemicals of major public health concern and is a substance that disperses into and remains in ecosystems for generations, causing several ill health and intellectual impairment to exposed populations, World Health Organization director-general Margaret Chan says.
Mercury from small-scale gold mining and coal-fired power stations represent the biggest source of mercury pollution worldwide, UNEP says. Under the Minamata Convention, governments have agreed that countries will come up with ways to reduce the amount of mercury used by small-scale miners and that national plans will be drawn up within three years of the treaty entering into force to reduce and possibly eliminate mercury.
The treaty will also control mercury emission and releases from large-scale industrial plants such as coal-fired power stations, industrial boilers, waste incinerators and cement clinkers facilities.
Governments initially negotiated and agreed to the text of the treaty at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland in January.