Governments meeting at the 4th of 5 negotiations are running out of time to address key issues before finalizing a legally binding treaty on mercury. Most major issues remain unresolved and the Zero Mercury Working Group expressed concern over the lack of progress at such a late stage. “There has been no substantial progress on the biggest sources of mercury pollution nor in reconciling the different positions of governments,” said Michael Bender, ZMWG co-coordinator. Issues as straightforward as the phase out of mercury in products and processes and supply and trade did not progress any better, according to Bender. Barely visible in the draft treaty text are core requirements for the environmentally sound management of mercury, which are contingent on future decisions, and the issue of contaminated sites has only been minimally addressed.
The fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to prepare a global legally binding instrument on Mercury (INC4) will be held in Punta del Este, Uruguay, from 27 June to 2 July 2012. The Zero Mercury Working Group has prepared its views on the INC 4 draft_treaty text. Noting that mercury gets transported great distances through the air and in trade, NGOs are urging governments to cut mercury off at the source by adopting strong treaty provisions.
Dental mercury fillings pollute the environment, contaminate fish and are far more costly for taxpayers than the alternative tooth-colored material, according to an economics report released by MPP and a broad coalition of health, consumer and environmental groups. The study was prepared by Brussels-based Concorde East/West Sprl and details how society pays for dental mercury through additional pollution control costs, deterioration of public resources, and the health effects associated with mercury contamination. The report shows that when the real cost to taxpayers and the environment is considered, amalgam is significantly more costly than composite as a filling material, by at least $41 more per filling, as reflected in the International Academy of Oral Medicine & Toxicology brochure.
Today, ZMWG, EEB, HEAL and HCWHE sent a letter sent to all EU Environment Ministers and Commissioners and Director Generals for Environment and Health, asking for support for phase-outs of mercury use in dentistry in the EU and globally. This was in response to the EU in 2011 conducting a full life-cycle assessment of mercury use in dentistry- mainly looking at the environmental effects caused. The study is expected to be completed by spring 2012. The EEB had sent its initial input on the study in September 2011.
The World Health Organization today released its long-awaited 2009 meeting report on the “Future Use of Materials for Dental Restorations” in preparation for the third of five Intergovernmental Committee deliberations that are expected to lead to the adoption of a legally binding treaty on mercury by 2013. Hailed by consumer groups as a “breakthrough,” the WHO report suggests, over time, the global “phase down” of amalgam. “When an amalgam “phase down” was proposed during the meeting, there was much support,” said MPP director Bender in a statement. “This report reflects this and represents the first step towards phasing out amalgam globally.”
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.”
MPP recent wrote a letter supporting U.S. Government (USG) leadership calling for mercury amalgam “…phase down, with the goal of eventual phase out” in its most submission to the UN Mercury International Negotiating Committee (INC). The USG position is consistent with WHO’s perspective as reflected in a presentation to INC1 and is also reflective of countries in the Nordic and elsewhere that have already phased down amalgam. In addition, the letter urges the USG to not succumb to ADA’s recommendations to have FDA assume a leading role in the INC process, given that EPA, and not FDA has the expertise to address the global threat of mercury amalgam releases.
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.
MPP recently provided testimony to an FDA panel charged with re-examining dental amalgam. We pointed out that while FDA panel re-evalutates, the World Health Organization is expected to recommend that amalgam use be “phased down.” “We welcome WHO’s support for “phase down” , and urge FDA to do the same,” said MPP’s director. The WHO is expected to soon final its meeting report in preparation for the upcoming International Negotiations Committee deliberations in Chiba, Japan, 24-28 January, 2011, that will ultimately lead to the adoption of a legally binding instrument on mercury by 2013.