Global Convention on Mercury Comes Into Effect

IAS Prelims 2023

A ground-breaking global convention on mercury has comes into effect, protecting millions of children and infants from possible neurological and health damage.

The Minamata Convention commits Governments to specific measures, which include banning new mercury mines, phasing-out existing ones, regulating artisanal and small-scale gold mining, and reducing emissions and mercury use.

Since the element is indestructible, the Convention also stipulates conditions for interim storage and disposal of mercury waste.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element. It can be released to the environment from natural sources – such as weathering of mercury-containing rocks, forest fires, volcanic eruptions or geothermal activities – but also from human activities.

An estimated 5500-8900 tons of mercury is currently emitted and re-emitted each year to the atmosphere, with much of the re-emitted mercury considered to be related to human activity, as are the direct releases.

Due to its unique properties, mercury has been used in various products and processes for hundreds of years. Currently, it is mostly utilised in industrial processes that produce chlorine (mercury chlor-alkali plants) or vinyl chloride monomer for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) production, and polyurethane elastomers.

It is extensively used to extract gold from ore in artisanal and small-scale gold mining. It is contained in products such as electrical switches (including thermostats), relays, measuring and control equipment, energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs, batteries and dental amalgam. It is also used in laboratories, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, including in vaccines as a preservative, paints, and jewellery.

Mercury is also released unintentionally from some industrial processes, such as coal-fired power and heat generation, cement production, mining and other metallurgic activities such as non-ferrous metals production, as well as from incineration of many types of waste.

Governments that are party to the Convention are now legally bound to take a range of measures to protect human health and the environment by addressing mercury throughout its lifecycle.

The Convention takes its name from the most severe mercury poisoning disaster in history. In 1956, local villages suffered convulsions, psychosis, loss of consciousness and coma from eating the fish in Minamata Bay, Japan, in which industrial wastewaters had been dumped since the 1930s. Thousands of people were certified as having directly suffered from mercury poisoning, now known as Minamata disease.

The Minamata Convention provides controls over a myriad of products containing mercury, the manufacture, import and export of which will be altogether prohibited by 2020, except where countries have requested an exemption for an initial 5-year period. These products include certain types of batteries, of lamps such as compact fluorescent lamps, of and relays, soaps and cosmetics, thermometers, and blood pressure devices. Dental fillings which use mercury amalgam are also regulated under the Convention, and their use must be phased down through a number of measures.

According to UNEP, up to 8,900 metric tonnes of mercury are emitted each year. It can be released naturally through the weathering of mercury-containing rocks, forest fires and volcanic eruptions, but significant emissions also come from human processes, particularly coal burning and artisanal and small-scale gold mining. Mining alone exposes up to 15 million workers in 70 different countries to mercury poisoning, including child labourers.

Other man-made sources of mercury pollution include the production of chlorine and some plastics, waste incineration and use of mercury in laboratories, pharmaceuticals, preservatives, paints and jewelry.

There is no safe level of exposure to mercury nor are there cures for mercury poisoning, which at high levels causes irreversible neurological and health damage.

The mercury cycle is a biogeochemical cycle involving mercury. Mercury is notable for being the only metal which is liquid at room temperature. It is a volatile metal and evaporates, though it takes quite a while to do so.

The Convention – the first new global convention related to the environment and health in close to a decade – entered force today, 90 days after the fiftieth party ratified it on 18 May. There are now 74 parties to the Convention and 128 countries have signed it.

Participant Signature Ratification, Acceptance (A), Approval (AA), Accession (a)
Afghanistan 02/05/2017 (a)
Albania 09/10/2014
Angola 11/10/2013
Antigua and Barbuda 23/09/2016 (a)
Argentina 10/10/2013
Armenia 10/10/2013
Australia 10/10/2013
Austria 10/10/2013 12/06/2017
Bangladesh 10/10/2013
Belarus 23/09/2014
Belgium 10/10/2013
Benin 10/10/2013 07/11/2016
Bolivia (Plurinational State of) 10/10/2013 26/01/2016
Botswana 03/06/2016 (a)
Brazil 10/10/2013 08/08/2017
Bulgaria 10/10/2013 18/05/2017
Burkina Faso 10/10/2013 10/04/2017 (a)
Burundi 14/02/2014
Cambodia 10/10/2013
Cameroon 24/09/2014
Canada 10/10/2013 7/04/2017
Central African Republic 10/10/2013
Chad 25/09/2014 24/09/2015
Chile 10/10/2013
China 10/10/2013 31/08/2016
Colombia 10/10/2013
Comoros 10/10/2013
Congo (Republic of the) 08/10/2014
Costa Rica 10/10/2013 19/01/2017
Côte d´Ivoire 10/10/2013
Croatia 24/09/2014
Cyprus 24/09/2014
Czech Republic 10/10/2013 19/06/2017
Denmark 10/10/2013 18/05/2017
Djibouti 10/10/2013 23/09/2014
Dominican Republic 10/10/2013
Ecuador 10/10/2013 29/07/2016
El Salvador 20/06/2017 (a)
Estonia 21/06/2017 (a)
Ethiopia 10/10/2013
European Union 10/10/2013 18/05/2017 (AA)
Finland 10/10/2013 01/06/2017 (A)
France 10/10/2013 15/06/2017
Gabon 30/06/2014 24/09/2014 (A)
Gambia 10/10/2013 07/11/2016
Georgia 10/10/2013
Germany 10/10/2013
Ghana 24/09/2014 23/03/2017
Greece 10/10/2013
Guatemala 10/10/2013
Guinea 25/11/2013 21/10/2014
Guinea-Bissau 24/09/2014
Guyana 10/10/2013 24/09/2014
Honduras 24/09/2014 22/03/2017
Hungary 10/10/2013 18/05/2017
India 30/09/2014
Indonesia 10/10/2013
Iran (Islamic Republic of) 10/10/2013 16/06/2017
Iraq 10/10/2013
Ireland 10/10/2013
Israel 10/10/2013
Italy 10/10/2013
Jamaica 10/10/2013 19/07/2017
Japan 10/10/2013 02/02/2016 (A)
Jordan 10/10/2013 12/11/2015
Kenya 10/10/2013
Kiribati 28/07/2017 (a)
Korea (Republic of) 24/09/2014
Kuwait 10/10/2013 3/12/2015
Latvia 24/09/2014 20/06/2017
Lesotho 12/11/2014 (a)
Liberia 24/09/2014
Libya 10/10/2013
Liechtenstein 01/02/2017 (a)
Lithuania 10/10/2013
Luxembourg 10/10/2013
Madagascar 10/10/2013 13/05/2015
Malawi 10/10/2013
Malaysia 24/09/2014
Mali 10/10/2013 27/05/2016
Malta 08/10/2014 18/05/2017
Mauritania 11/10/2013 18/08/2015
Mauritius 10/10/2013
Mexico 10/10/2013 29/09/2015
Moldova (Republic of) 10/10/2013 20/06/2017
Monaco 24/09/2014 24/09/2014
Mongolia 10/10/2013 28/09/2015
Montenegro 24/09/2014
Morocco 06/06/2014
Mozambique 10/10/2013
Nepal 10/10/2013
Netherlands 10/10/2013 18/05/2017
New Zealand 10/10/2013
Nicaragua 10/10/2013 29/10/2014
Niger 10/10/2013 09/06/2017
Nigeria 10/10/2013
Norway 10/10/2013 12/05/2017
Pakistan 10/10/2013
Palau 09/10/2014 21/06/2017
Panama 10/10/2013 29/09/2015
Paraguay 10/02/2014
Peru 10/10/2013 21/01/2016
Philippines 10/10/2013
Poland 24/09/2014
Romania 10/10/2013 18/05/2017
Russian Federation 24/09/2014
Rwanda 29/06/2017 (a)
Saint Kitts and Nevis 24/05/2017 (a)
Samoa 10/10/2013 24/09/2015
Senegal 11/10/2013 03/03/2016
Serbia 09/10/2014
Seychelles 27/05/2014 13/01/2015
Sierra Leone 12/08/2014 1/11/2016
Singapore 10/10/2013
Slovakia 10/10/2013 31/05/2017
Slovenia 10/10/2013 23/06/2017
South Africa 10/10/2013
Spain 10/10/2013
Sri Lanka 08/10/2014 19/06/2017
Sudan 24/09/2014
Swaziland 21/09/2016 (a)
Sweden 10/10/2013 18/05/2017
Switzerland 10/10/2013 25/05/2016
Syrian Arab Republic 24/09/2014 26/07/2017
Tanzania (United Republic of) 10/10/2013
Thailand 22/06/2017 (a)
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 25/07/2014
Togo 10/10/2013 03/02/2017
Tunisia 10/10/2013
Turkey 24/09/2014
Uganda 10/10/2013
United Arab Emirates 10/10/2013 27/04/2015
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 10/10/2013
United States of America 06/11/2013 06/11/2013 (A)
Uruguay 10/10/2013 24/09/2014
Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) 10/10/2013
Viet Nam 11/10/2013 23/06/2017 (AA)
Yemen 21/03/2014
Zambia 10/10/2013 11/03/2016
Zimbabwe 11/10/2013