News / Health

    More Than 140 Nations Approve Global Treaty to Cut Mercury

    An aerial view of the environmental damage caused by illegal mining at the Canaima National Park in southern Bolivar State on June 17, 2010.
    An aerial view of the environmental damage caused by illegal mining at the Canaima National Park in southern Bolivar State on June 17, 2010.
    Lisa Schlein
    After a week of intense negotiations, more than 140 countries have adopted the first global, legally binding treaty to prevent the release of mercury. Negotiators believe the new treaty will succeed in lessening the threat to human and environmental health.  

    After all-night talks, negotiators toasted each other with champagne early Saturday to celebrate their achievement. The treaty, which has been under negotiation for four years, provides controls and reductions across a range of products and processes where mercury is used, released and emitted.

    The treaty, known as the Minamata Convention on Mercury, is named after a city in Japan where serious health damage occurred as a result of mercury pollution in the mid-20th century.  

    Mercury is a toxic element that occurs in nature. Slightly more than 2,000 tons of mercury are emitted into the air annually as a result of human activity, increasing the threat to human health and the environment.

    Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program Achim Steiner said that mercury is used widely in many sectors. It is found in the medical and pharmaceutical industries, in batteries and lighting, and in everyday products, such as skin creams and soap.

    "It took us a long time to both establish and understand that in expanding this use by human beings, we were creating a terrible legacy because mercury accumulates," said Steiner. "It accumulates in the food chain through fish, for instance. It accumulates in our bodies. It is released through… the burning of coal-power stations and travels sometimes thousands of kilometers. It affects the Inuit in Canada, just as it affects the small-scale artisanal gold miner somewhere in southern Africa.”

    2020 deadline

    The treaty includes measures for controlling and phasing out the use of mercury. Under the treaty, governments agree to ban the production, export and import of a range of products containing mercury by 2020

    Mercury is harmful to health. It can cause brain and neurological damage, especially among children. Other effects include kidney damage and damage to the digestive system. Victims can suffer memory loss and language impairment.

    UNEP says coal burning and small-scale gold mining are the major sources of mercury emissions into the air. The booming price of gold is triggering a significant growth in small-scale mining, especially in impoverished communities in Africa and Asia.  

    Up to 15 million people work in this industry, including 3 million women and children. The head of UNEP’s Chemical Branch, Tim Kasten, said  mercury is used to separate gold from the ore-bearing rock. Unfortunately, he said, this process is extremely harmful to health.

    “So, what we would like to do is to help them understand the hazards of mercury. Get them to reduce the amount of mercury they are using, either through very low technology devices that are called retorts, which is actually a way of recycling or distilling the mercury that they are using, such that they can recover between 80% and 90% of the mercury that they are using," said Kasten. "So they can use that mercury again. So they do not have to pay for the mercury. At the same time, it is not being emitted it into the air.”   

    Reducing health hazards

    The treaty calls upon nations that have artisanal and small-scale gold mining operations to draw up national plans within three years of the treaty going into force. The aim is to reduce and, if possible, eliminate the use of mercury in such operations.

    The treaty will be open for signature at a special meeting in Japan in October. It will take effect after 50 countries have ratified it.

    You May Like

    US, Allies Discuss Next Steps in Islamic State Fight

    Meeting comes a day after US Navy SEAL was killed while fighting Islamic State forces in northern Iraq

    In China, Traditional Banks Fight Challenge From Internet Firms

    Internet companies lent more than $150 billion to customers in 2015, which is an extremely small amount compared to the much larger lending by commercial banks last year

    Trump Faces Tough Presidential Odds Against Clinton

    Numerous national election surveys show former secretary of state defeating presumptive Republican nominee with tough talk to halt illegal immigration and temporarily block Muslims from entering country

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora