News / Health

    Treaty Sought to Limit Damaging Effects of Mercury

    A gold miner shows a gold-mercury amalgam at an artisanal mining in Abangares, north of San Jose, December 9, 2009.A gold miner shows a gold-mercury amalgam at an artisanal mining in Abangares, north of San Jose, December 9, 2009.
    x
    A gold miner shows a gold-mercury amalgam at an artisanal mining in Abangares, north of San Jose, December 9, 2009.
    A gold miner shows a gold-mercury amalgam at an artisanal mining in Abangares, north of San Jose, December 9, 2009.
    Lisa Schlein
    Delegates from more than 130 countries and dozens of non-governmental organizations are attending a week-long conference to forge a global, legally binding treaty aimed at limiting the damaging effects of mercury on health and the environment.  

    The U.N. Environment Program reports the global threat to human and environmental health from mercury is growing.  A new report finds that worldwide, nearly 2,000 tons of mercury are emitted into the air from human activities every year.  Much of this toxic substance is subsequently deposited on vegetation, in the soil, and in oceans, lakes and rivers.

    The deputy head of  UNEP’s Chemical Branch, David Piper, said much human exposure to mercury is through the consumption of contaminated fish.

    He said mercury may be converted by organisms into toxic organic forms, which work their way up the food chain. “Micro-organisms are eaten by small fish, the small fish are eaten by big fish, the big fish are eaten by us ...  If we have a fish-based diet, we can end up with a significant load of mercury in our bodies and, therefore, being at great risk from mercury poisoning," he said.

    Mercury affects the brain and nervous system and can cause physical and mental development problems in children.  Pregnant women who ingest mercury can pass the toxic effects to their unborn children.

    The U.N. Environment Program finds the global demand for mercury is decreasing somewhat, with many developed countries taking measures to reduce mercury use.  But it notes mercury use is increasing in developing countries.  

    It says small-scale gold mining and coal burning are the major sources of mercury emissions into the air.  It says Asia contributes almost half of these global emissions because of increasing industrialization.  

    The report says annual emissions from small-scale gold mining are estimated at 727 tons or 35 percent of the global total.  Piper says this poses a direct threat to the health of millions of people in Africa, Asia and South America.  

    “At the moment, artisanal and small-scale gold mining is a feature of probably around 70 countries with 10- to 15-million miners.  I think that is probably an underestimate these days.  It is very often driven by the gold price and by poverty.  This is poor people looking for a source of livelihood," he said.

    Piper says the best way of reducing the risk of mercury to human health and the environment is to stop using it as soon as possible.  This is unlikely to happen.  So, he says delegates are drafting a legally binding treaty that aims to control emissions of mercury into the atmosphere.

    He says the draft treaty stresses the need for industries to work on pollution control and to avoid the spread of products containing mercury. The treaty calls on rich countries to provide financial support to poor countries and outlines a series of mechanisms to ensure compliance and implementation of the measures.

    The treaty is scheduled to be adopted toward the end of the year in Japan.

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora