The findings of a new WHO/FAO Report on Benefits and Risks of Seafood Consumption were challenged today by MPP as missing a key opportunity to advise governments about mercury risk from fish consumption. “Surprisingly, this expert group failed to address exposure concerns about fish with higher mercury levels, which have led to consumption advisories in the U.S. and around the world,” said MPP director Bender, in a statement. “The concept of ‘net benefits’ is severely flawed, because benefits accrue to everyone who eats seafood, but risks are concentrated in the small fraction of the population who regularly choose high-mercury fish,” said Dr. Ned Groth, an MPP science consultant. “It is not acceptable to tolerate significant harm to a minority just because the large majority are better off.”
As delegates from 117 countries concluded the second round of negotiations for a legally binding treaty on mercury, they welcomed Japan’s offer to host the 2013 diplomatic conference in Minamata where the convention will be signed, due to the unprecedented mercury epidemic in the 1950’s. However, NGOs from around the world urged them to truly honor Minimata by agreeing to adopt strong measures. “If the world’s governments really want to call this the “Minamata Treaty,” then they should back up their words with meaningful actions,” said Takeshi Yasuma, of Citizens Against Chemicals Pollution, a Japanese NGO, who worked closely with Minamata groups in raising awareness at the meeting and through the news media reports.
Although delegates generally agreed on a proposed basic framework for mercury reductions, they left most all substantive issues unresolved. According to a ZMWG statement, governments now need to exert strong leadership to: monitor and reduce emissions from coal-fired power stations and other industry and industry; phase out existing mercury mining and management of stored quantities; the classification and management of mercury waste; and critical also is resolving financial aspects of the future convention. After reviewing and summarizing comments on the draft UNEP framework document, interventions were made by ZMWG and other NGOs and recommended: expanding the list of mercury-based products and processes to be regulated under the treaty, providing explicit time lines for phase outs, reducing mercury content in lamps, and strengthening provisions on artisanal and small-scale gold mining, the largest mercury use in the world, among many others.
The European Environmental Bureau and MPP recently wrote a letter urging the World Health Organization (WHO) to correct inaccuracies, misleading and incorrect statements before finalizing its meeting report. Unfortunately, the draft report’s bias is already being diffused on various pro-amalgam websites, including one from Australia and the other from the USA. Among other things, the letter encourages WHO to correct for the record that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss alternatives to amalgam, and not debate or assert the safety of amalgam, — and instead to highlight opportunities for “phasing down” the amalgam use, as WHO discussed in Stockholm in June.
New York, NY
The Council of Organizations, a Division of the United Nations Association of the USA, planned a Human Rights Day conference focusing on mercury as a case study from a human rights perspective. MPP’s Director presented “The Global Mercury Crisis Disproportionally Threatens the World’s Most Vulnerable Populations.” Inequities of mercury related illnesses fall disproportionately and most heavily on indigenous and coastal people around the world, especially those who make their living from subsistence fishing – so controlling mercury pollution is a human rights as well as environmental issue. For more information, see MPP’s paper, Seeking Environmental Justice.
A year-long investigation by the Associated Press released recently has linked small scale gold mining by African children with the purchase by Swiss companies, with the gold ending up stored in Swiss banks. Despite a lawsuit filed against the AP by a company in Switzerland–(“Earlier this year, Decafin unsuccessfully sued The AP in Switzerland to prevent its name from being published in this story, claiming it would unfairly damage the company’s reputation“)–the story finally ran. The AP reports that approximately 20% of the gold mined each year is by small scale miners, including children, who are often treated as commodities and subjected to brutal working conditions and life risking activities in pursuit of providing luxury goods to the wealthy. It’s estimated that between 650 and 1,000 metric tons of mercury are used each year by 15 million miners in more than 40 developing countries to extract the gold, exposing miners and pollution the local and global environment. The AP has provided links to 4 video clips that were produced as part of their investigations. It has several scenes of children using mercury to treat the gold. The video clips are posted on the left hand side of this Yahoo page under the title “AP Interactive”, or you can try the direct link. Numerous news outlets covered the story, including ABC News, The Washington Post (includes short slideshow), and USA Today.
A key US House Committee yesterday approved legislation, HR 1534 — the Mercury Export Ban Act of 2007 — banning the export of mercury by 2010 and established a long term storage option at a facility designated by the US Secretary of Energy. HR.1534 is supported by the environmental community, the Environmental Council of States, the American Chemistry Council, the Chlorine Industry and the mining industry and passed the US House Energy and Commerce Committee on a vote of 42 to 2. HR. 1534 is needed to curtail trade in this toxic commodity particularly to developing countries where over 1000 tons of mercury is used and released by small scale gold miners, threatening themselves, their families and communities and the local and global environment to widespread, persistent and bioacccumulative toxin. The legislation moves to the US House of Representatives for consideration.