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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More