Mercury treaty adopted in Geneva by 140 countries

Updated 20 January 2013

Mercury treaty adopted in Geneva by 140 countries

GENEVA: Delegations from some 140 countries have agreed to adopt a ground-breaking treaty limiting the use of health-hazardous mercury, the Swiss foreign ministry and the said on Saturday.
The world’s first legally binding treaty on mercury, reached after a week of thorny talks, will aim to reduce global emission levels of the toxic heavy metal also known as quicksilver, which poses risks to human health and the environment.
Switzerland, which along with Norway initiated the process a decade ago, hailed the consensus on the issue.
“The new treaty aims to reduce the production and the use of mercury, especially in the production of products and in industrial processes,” the Swiss foreign ministry said in a statement.
Countries will be asked to sign the treaty next October in Minamata, Japan, in honor of the town’s inhabitants who for decades have suffered the consequences of serious mercury contamination, the statement said.
“The adoption of the mercury treaty shows the vitality of international environmental politics and the will of states to together find solutions to world problems,” head of the Swiss delegation to the talks, Franz Perrez, said in the statement.
Mercury is found in products ranging from electrical switches to thermometers to light-bulbs, to amalgam dental fillings and even facial creams, and large amounts of the heavy metal are released from small-scale gold mining, coal-burning power plants, metal smelters and cement production.
Serious mercury poisoning affects the body’s immune system and can lead to problems including psychological disorders, loss of teeth and problems with the digestive, cardiovascular and respiratory tracts.
It also affects development of the brain and nervous system and poses the greatest risk to foetuses and infants.
Ahead of the Geneva conference, the UN’s environmental program provided the first global assessment of releases of mercury into rivers and lakes.
“In the past 100 years, man-made emissions have caused the amount of mercury in the top 100 meters of the world’s oceans to double. Concentrations in deeper waters have increased by up to 25%,” the agency said, adding that much human exposure to mercury is through the consumption of contaminated fish.
UNEP also highlighted rising levels of mercury in the Arctic, where 200 tons of the substance are deposited every year.
The UN agency’s study also found that developing countries were especially vulnerable to direct mercury contamination owing mainly to the widespread use of the element in small-scale gold mining and to the burning of coal for electricity generation.
Such exposure “poses a direct threat to the health of some 10-15 million people who are directly involved in small scale gold mining, mainly in Africa, Asia and South America,” UNEP said.

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Press statement of the UNEP on the Treaty:

Mercury-containing products whose production, export and import will be banned by 2020, include:
• Batteries, except for ‘button cell’ batteries used in implantable medical devices
• Switches and relays
• Certain types of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)
• Mercury in cold cathode fluorescent lamps and external electrode fluorescent lamps
• Soaps and cosmetics

Certain kinds of non-electronic medical devices such as thermometers and blood pressure devices are also included for phase-out by 2020.
Governments approved exceptions for some large measuring devices where currently there are no mercury-free alternatives.
• Vaccines where mercury is used as a preservative have been excluded from the treaty as have products used in religious or traditional activities
• Delegates agreed to a phase-down of the use of dental fillings using mercury amalgam.

Artisanal and small-scale gold mining
The booming price of gold in recent years has triggered a significant growth in small-scale mining where mercury is used to separate gold from the ore-bearing rock.
Emissions and releases from such operations and from coal-fired power stations represent the biggest source of mercury pollution world-wide.
Workers and their families involved in small-scale gold mining are exposed to mercury pollution in several ways including through inhalation during the smelting.
Mercury is also being released into river systems from these small-scale operations where it can contaminate fish, the food chain and people downstream.
• Governments agreed that the treaty will require countries to draw up strategies to reduce the amount of mercury used by small-scale miners
• Nations with artisanal and small-scale gold mining operations will draw up national plans within three years of the treaty entering into force to reduce and if possible eliminate the use of mercury in such operations
• Public awareness campaigns and support for mercury-free alternatives will also be part of the plans

From power stations to cement factories
The new treaty will control mercury emissions and releases from various large industrial facilities ranging from coal-fired power stations and industrial boilers to certain kinds of smelters handling for example zinc and gold.
Waste incineration and cement clinker facilities are also on the list.
Nations agreed to install the Best Available Technologies on new power plants and facilities with plans to be drawn up to bring emissions down from existing ones.
The negotiations were initially looking to set thresholds on the size of plants or level of emissions to be controlled. But it was decided this week to defer this until the first meeting of the treaty after it comes into force.

India coronavirus cases pass 6 million

Updated 18 min 35 sec ago

India coronavirus cases pass 6 million

  • India could leapfrog the US in the coming weeks
  • Narendra Modi has called on people to keep wearing face coverings when they ventured outside of their homes

NEW DELHI: India reported its six millionth coronavirus case on Monday as it surged closer to the United States as the most-infected nation, and authorities pressed ahead with reigniting the economy.
The vast nation is home to 1.3 billion people, some of humanity’s most densely populated cities and a feeble health care system, and for several weeks it has reported around 90,000 new cases daily — the highest in the world.
Health ministry data showed a rise of 82,000 cases on Monday, taking the total to 6.1 million and closing the gap on the United States, which has recorded 7.1 million infections. India could leapfrog the US in the coming weeks.
India has a much lower death rate than other worst-hit nations with almost 100,000 fatalities so far — fewer than half the grisly toll of 205,000 recorded in the US, which has roughly a quarter of the population. Brazil has meanwhile recorded 140,000 deaths.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called on people to keep wearing face coverings when they ventured outside of their homes.
“These rules are weapons in the war against corona. They are potent tools to save the life of every citizen,” Modi said during his monthly radio address on Sunday.
The virus initially hit major metropolises including financial hub Mumbai and capital New Delhi, but has since spread to regional and rural areas where health care systems are even more fragile and patchy.
“In several of the pockets where the transmission is active, the infection has gone into the community,” former national health secretary Sujatha Rao said.
“It is difficult to control transmission in such situations and a dramatic turnaround can perhaps be possible only through a rigorous implementation of a lockdown and preventive measures like mask wearing.”
The government is unlikely to reimpose major restrictions after a lockdown in March battered the economy and wrecked the livelihoods of millions of people, particularly the poor.
Some schools have now reopened, and trains, metros, domestic flights, markets and restaurants have been allowed to operate with some restrictions. The Taj Mahal also opened again for tourists this month.
Anand Krishnan, a community medicine professor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, said authorities should focus on treating people who contract the virus.
“The only thing that we can do is take care of people who are ill — identify them faster and treat them better. And follow the social-distancing norms,” he said.
“Beyond that, I don’t think there is anything specific that can be done.”
Some locals in Delhi said that while they remained cautious, their worries about the pandemic had lessened since the start of the year.
“I’m out of the house all day because of my work. I don’t step out of the house for anything else,” said 23-year-old medical store worker Umang Chutani.
“The future is uncertain but one can only be cautious and follow all safety protocols.”
Himanshu Kainthola, 61, who recovered from the virus last month after testing positive with two other relatives, said his family’s fears “have reduced substantially.”
“We have made peace with it. We take the necessary precautions and invest in increasing our immunity rather than being anxious or scared of it.”
Creative writing student Santosh added that the virus was now “part of our lives.”
“You cannot shutdown every business, because the economy cannot collapse... COVID-19 is not going to pay the rent,” he said.