Mongolia joins the Minamata convention on mercury ban

Prohibition on mercury use aims to safeguard public health

Mongolia became one of the first countries to sign the ‘Minamata Convention on Mercury’, a new
international convention to reduce emissions and the release of toxic metals into the air, land and water,
and to phase out many products that contain mercury. The Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the ‘Minamata
Convention on Mercury’ was held in Minamata and Kumamoto, Japan, from October 9 to 11 and a thousand delegates from about 140 nations adopted a treaty at the international conference organized by the U.N. Environment Program. 

On October 10, S.Khurelbaatar, Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Mongolia to Japan signed the ‘Minamata Convention on Mercury’, making Mongolia one of 92 countries, that joined the convention.The Minamata Convention on Mercury–a global, legally binding treaty which opened for signatures– was agreed to by governments in January and formally adopted as international law on October 10. The Convention on Mercury is named after the Japanese city Minamata where industrial emissions of the toxic substance caused a poisoning disease affecting thousands of people.

The new treaty is the first new global convention on environment and health for nearly a decade. Coming
at a time when some multilateral negotiations have faced challenges, its successful negotiation, after a four-year process, provides a new momentum to intergovernmental cooperation on the environment. From January 13 to 18 2013, governments successfully completed their negotiations at the fifth session of the intergovernmental negotiating committee to prepare a global legally binding instrument on mercury in Geneva. “The Minamata Convention will protect people and improve standards of living for millions around the world, especially the most vulnerable,’’ United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in an address read to the conference. “Let us strive to achieve universal adherence to this valuable new instrument and advance together toward a safer, more sustainable and healthier planet for all.”

Mercury is one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern and is a substance which
disperses into and remains in ecosystems for generations, causing severe ill health and intellectual
impairment to exposed populations. Mercury’s impacts on the human nervous system have been known
for more than a century. The Mad Hatter of Alice in Wonderland famewas so-called because hat-makers
of the time used the liquid metal to strengthen brims and users breathed in the poisonous fumes. Other potential impacts include impaired thyroid and liver function, irritability, tremors, vision difficulty, memory loss and cardiovascular problems.

Mercury from small-scale goldmining and from coal-fired power stations represent the biggest source of
mercury pollution worldwide. Miners inhale mercury during smelting, and mercury run-off into rivers
and streams contaminates fish, the food chain and people downstream. Although Mongolia banned mercury
use in small-scale mining in 2008, many sites have been contaminated by mercury, because of illegal activities
of artisanal mining. 
Improper use of mercury led to environmental pollution and caused serious health problems
for miners, as well as public health. Under the Convention, governments have agreed that countries will draw
up strategies to reduce the amount of mercury used by small-scale miners and that national plans will be drawn up within three years of the treaty  entering into force to reduce–and if possible — eliminate mercury. The Convention will also control mercury emissions and discharges from large scale industrial plants such as coal-fired power stations, industrial boilers, waste incinerators and cement clinkers facilities.

Under provisions of the Minamata Convention, governments have also agreed on a range of mercury containing products whose production, import and export will be banned by 2020. These items have non-mercury  alternatives that will be further phased in as these are phased out. They include batteries, except for ‘button cell’ batteries used in implantable medical devices; switches and relays, some compact fluorescent lamps; mercury in cold cathode fluorescent lamps and external electrode fluorescent lamps; soaps and cosmetics (mercury is used in skin-whitening products) some mercury-containing medical items such as thermometers and blood pressure devices.

Source:Mongol Messenger


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