The agreement is a response to the realization that mercury pollution is a global problem that no one country can solve alone. The convention was four years in the making, with morethan 130 nations agreeing by consensus to a final text in January 2013. It includes both compulsory and voluntary measures to control mercury emissions from various sources, to phase the element out of certain products and industrial processes, to restrict its trade, and to eliminate mining of it.
Mercury is a global pollutant of growing concern. As an elemental gas, mercury is eligible for long-range transportation meaning local sources of mercury emissions have a global impact. Upon arrival to lakes and aquatic ecosystems, bacteria are responsible for converting oxidized mercury into methylmercury, a potent neurotoxin. Methylmercury can then bioaccumulate in fish and biomagnify, posing the most risks to large predatory fish that are consumed by humans.
Even children’s toys can be sources of toxic chemicals and metals. Early this year, IPEN and GRID-Arendal jointly published a shocking report, Toxic metals in children’s products: an insight into the market in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, which revealed that approximately 30% of toys tested from Eastern Europe and Central Asian countries contained at least one toxic metal where 3% exceeded the limit for mercury. Moreover, in some products, the mercury limit was exceeded by more than 170 times.
A recent report prepared by GRID-Arendal for UNEP, Mercury: Time To Act, identified global sources of mercury and assessed their impacts on human health. The publication revealed that artisanal and small-scale gold mining together with coal combustion contribute to approximately 61% of total annual anthropogenic emissions of mercury to the air. GRID-Arendal is also preparing another report for UNEP focusing on efforts aimed at reducing demand and phasing out mercury containing products in the hopes to reduce the amount of mercury reaching the environment.