Shift in U.S. Policy Opens Door to Global Mercury Agreement

A dramatic reversal of the U.S. position on worldwide mercury pollution cleared the way for the development of a globally binding treaty on mercury through the work of an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) over the next four years.  (See press release.) At the UNEP Governing Council meeting in Nairobi, the U.S. delegation endorsed negotiations in 2009 for a new global treaty to control mercury contamination. “The Obama administration has clearly shown a new day has dawned for U.S. leadership and engagement with the rest of the world,” said Bender, MPP’s Director and co-coordinator of ZMWG. “And the momentum created by the U.S. galvanized other governments around the world to step up to address the global mercury crisis.”

During the February’s UNEP Governing Council (GC) meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, 120 countries expressed support for a legally binding agreement on mercury. The GC Decision charges UNEP with the responsibility to conduct, concurrent with the work of the INC, an inventory of the levels of existing emissions controls, and an analysis of the potential to achieve further mercury emission reductions.  The ZMWG plans to follow the issue closely and contribute to the INC process.
For additional information, see:  Obama Shifts U.S. Policy to Back Global Mercury Control Treaty

Mercury is Global Health Concern Warranting Immediate UN Action

As the world’s governments convene next week to discuss developing  a legally binding treaty on mercury, over twenty groups from around the world have co-released a new MPP report calling attention to the global human health hazards caused by  mercury  in fish and fish-eating marine mammals. The study, released by the international Zero Mercury Working Group, indicates that the health impacts of methylmercury in fish and fish-eating marine mammals are substantial, and demand an effective response from governments and the United Nations.  “Mercury contamination of fish and mammals is a global public health concern,” said MPP Director Bender. “Our study of fish tested in different locations around the world shows that widely accepted international exposure levels for methylmercury are exceeded, often by wide margins, in each country and area covered.”

According to the report, “Mercury in Fish: An Urgent Global Health Concern” (11MB), the risk is greatest for populations whose per capita fish consumption is high, and in areas where pollution has elevated the average mercury content of fish. But methylmercury hazards also exist where per capita fish consumption and average mercury levels in fish are comparatively low. In cultures where fish-eating marine mammals are part of the traditional diet, mercury in these animals can add substantially to total dietary exposure. For additional information, see

MPP and Allies Urge President Obama to Support Treaty to Reduce Mercury Exposure

At a meeting this morning with the Department of State, MPP and other representatives of various groups urged the United States Government to support a legally binding treaty to reduce mercury exposure next week at a UNEP Governing Council meeting in Nairobi, Kenya.  The groups plan on distributing a letter signed  by 50 U.S.-based groups and another 40 abroad urging President Barack Obama (and copied to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, CEQ Director Nancy Sutley and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson) to support a global mercury treaty.  “The upcoming United Nations meeting will provide the Obama administration with its first opportunity on the world stage to demonstrate a real change in the U.S. approach to international environmental issues,” said Michael Bender, MPP director (see press release). “We strongly recommend an approach that embraces cooperation and leadership, rather than the obstruction and inaction we have seen from the previous administration.”

MPP and allies release new risk and impact study

A new international study released today by MPP, Zero Mercury Working Group, GAIA and Ban Toxics! shows how the burning of mercury-containing products is increasing the risk of environmental and health impacts around the world. The new study states that incineration and burning send upwards of 200 tons of mercury into the atmosphere every year, comprising 10 percent of the mercury that enters the earth’s atmosphere through human activities.  “Based on this report’s findings, we must recognize that the amount of mercury released into the atmosphere through incineration and burning is much more significant than previously suspected, representing at least twice the emissions as previously thought,” said Michael Bender, MPP Director

The study, entitled “Mercury Rising: Reducing Global Emissions from Burning Mercury-Added Products,” underscores the harmful environmental and health impacts posed by incineration or burning of mercury-added products (such as discarded fluorescent light bulbs, thermostats, switches and thermometers) in incinerators, landfill fires and open burning of domestic waste is a significant contributor of mercury and other toxics to both local and global mercury pool.

The report recommends that, at the upcoming February meeting in Nairobi, of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), establish an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for the purpose of negotiating a free-standing legally binding instrument on mercury.In the interim period before such an instrument becomes effective, the report recommends to UNEP to take the following action:

  • Assume responsibility for the awareness-raising, analytical, technical and legal support activities necessary to encourage manufacturers of mercury-added products, and countries where such manufacturers are located, to identify and implement the actions.
  • Recognize that combustion of mercury-added products in incinerators, landfill fires and open burning of domestic waste is a significant contributor of mercury and other toxics in both local and global ecosystems, and urge countries to take steps to stop these practices and move towards safe, just, sustainable and more environmentally-sound alternatives