Governments approved exceptions for some large measuring devices where currently there are no mercury-free alternatives including: Vaccines where mercury is used as a preservative have been excluded from the treaty as have products used in religious or traditional activities; and delegates agreed to a phase-down of the use of dental fillings using mercury amalgam.
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 artisanal and small-scale 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; and, public awareness campaigns and support for mercury-free alternatives will also be part of the plans.
The new treaty will also 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.
Access a release from UNEP (click here). Access background to the fifth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to prepare a global legally binding instrument on mercury (INC5) (click here). Access a release on the GEF role to fund implementation of a new international treaty (click here). Access opening remarks of the U.S. Department of State at the INC5 meeting (click here). Access a complete 21-page summary of the INC5 meeting from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) (click here). Access the 42-page, latest draft of the Global Mercury Assessment 2013 (click here). Access the 44-page Mercury: Time to Act report (click here). [#Toxics]
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