As the U.S. considers surplus mercury issues, NGOs welcomed an EU regulation to ban mercury exports and ensure safe storage of surplus mercury so that this dangerous neurotoxin will not re-enter the global market. The proposed EU export ban sends a clear message to world governments and the upcoming UNEP Governing Council meeting in February 2007 that mercury exports should be curtailed globally, say NGOs. Mercury trade to over 50 developing countries, according to EU reports exposes miners to severe health impacts when used in gold mining and also pollutes the global environment, according to the UNIDO Global Mercury Project . “We’ve got to stop the cycle of toxic trade and contamination which ends up polluting our lunch sandwiches and dinners in the US,” said Michael Bender of MPP and Zero Mercury Working Group (see coverage). “The Commission recognized that it is very important that mercury supply and demand are addressed simultaneously.” The U.S. EPA has stated that it will initiate discussions on the surplus mercury issue in its Roadmap on Mercury in 2006. “Ultimately, it will be important to look at ways to permanently “retire” non-federally owned or managed commodity-grade mercury that will eventually have little or even negative economic value,” states the Roadmap. The Department of Defense has decided to permanently store, rather than sell, over 4,000 tons of surplus mercury.
As the Institute of Medicine announces the release of a new report on Oct.17, Seafood Choices: Balancing Benefits and Risks, advocates are questioning the process that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) used in selecting committee members. At the beginning of the process, MPP and other advocates wrote a letter expressing concerns over the selection of a consumer representative who had close ties with food producing companies. Advocates also met with IOM, and suggested that the IOM committee was unbalanced, pointing out that all but one member of the Committee was a nutritionist and that the overall emphasis of the Committee work focus on nutritional benefits rather than the risk of exposure to toxins like mercury.
Since then, it has come to light (see pages 11 & 12 of the report) that the one scientist on the committee with experience in reviewing health effects of mercury had published a report, two months before being appointed to the NAS committee, that was funded by the US Tuna Foundation and the National Food Processors Association Research Foundation. In the study for the fishing industry, this scientist concluded that pregnant women who reduced fish consumption instead of substituting low-mercury fish for high-mercury species would be doing more harm than good for their developing fetus. The study appeared in the academic literature, complete with disclosure of its funding sources, months after the Committee’s work got underway.