U.S. Joins EU in Banning Mercury Exports; Environmentalists Applaud Bi-Partisan Effort

The U.S. just  joined the European Union in setting a date certain to ban their mercury exports, thereby reducing the supply of commodity mercury into the world market.  Environmental groups in the U.S.  and around the world applauded the broad bi-partisan support of the legislation.  “Neither mercury nor the fish we eat recognizes federal boundaries,” Linda Greer, Director of the Health Program at NRDC, said in a statement. “Passage of this legislation banning the export of mercury is a great victory for the health of people in America and all over the world.  It will curb the flow of mercury into global commerce, keeping it out of our tuna and other fish.”

In independent actions taken in late September, the EU adopted a mercury export ban that takes effect in 2011, while earlier this month Congress passed legislation to ban U.S. mercury exports by 2013.  U.S. President George Bush signed the legislation it into law yesterday.  The Mercury Export Ban Act, S. 906, prohibits the sale of mercury by the U.S. government, prohibits the transfer of elemental mercury by Federal agencies and requires the Department of Energy (DOE)  to designate and manage an elemental mercury long-term disposal facility.The U.S. and the EU are among the top exporters of commodity mercury. Between 40 and 50% of the estimated 3,800 metric tons of annual global trade in mercury passes through the EU and the U.S.

Elements for a UN Global Framework on Mercury

Public interest advocates welcomed the results of a global meeting convened to take decisions on the threats posed by mercury to human health and environment. On 6-10 October 2008, the 2nd UNEP Open Ended Working Group (OEWG2) on Mercury agreed on the elements that would form part of a global framework on mercury, in preparation for the UNEP Governing Council (GC) in February 2009, where it will be decided whether a global legally binding instrument on mercury will be developed.  The UNEP GC had given the mandate to the OEWG to review and assess options for enhanced voluntary measures and new or existing international legal instruments. The OEWG2 completed its work, and will send a report to the GC including:

  • A comprehensive set of elements to be part of a global framework
  • Two options for global frameworks on mercury – a legal and a voluntary one.
  • If a legal framework is agreed, it will be a free-standing instrument rather than being part of an existing framework.

MPP Submits Quadrennial Report to UNEP

The European Environmental Bureau’s Zero Mercury Campaign and the Mercury Policy Project/Tides Center (MPP) have and continue to be accredited organizations to United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) since 2004. In response to a recent UNEP request, we have submitted our Quadrennial Report of activities supporting the work of UNEP, which outlines many of our activities dating back to 2002 when MPP first became in engaged in working collaboratively with UNEP on global mercury issues.

AP Investigation Links African Gold Mining to Swiss Companies

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.

New Web Site Helps Kids Identify the Healthiest Fish to Eat

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a new Web site at to help children and their parents choose the healthiest fish to eat, using interactive stories and games. Whether they catch their own fish or buy it at a store, children and their parents can use the Web site to learn how to select fish that are low in contaminants. The Web site includes stories focusing on different methods of obtaining fish, along with interactive games, to teach children ages 8-12 how to recognize common fish species and use fish advisories. The site can be viewed at: www.epa.gov/fishadvisories/kids/

U.S. FDA Warns Women and Children about Mercury Dental Fillings, Settles Lawsuit

After 32 years of delay, the Food and Drug Administration has finally agreed to comply with the law and set a date to classify mercury amalgam as a substance that poses a health risk to pregnant women and unborn babies, and children. This about-face resulted from settling, earlier this week, our lawsuit, Moms Against Mercury et al. v. Von Eschenbach, Commissioner, et al. (see Press Release) Stating it was an “unreasonable delay” and “an reasonable case of failure to act.” As reflected in the May 16, 2008 court transcripts, Judge Ellen Huvelle states that the “probability of harm is enormous,” and asked the FDA: “How could you drag your feet for 32 years? Do what you are supposed to do.” (see full transcript) Judge Huvelle also states that she couldn’t “order a ban, but can compel to act,” observing that this was “government at its worst” and that she wanted this “public safety issue to be resolved.” The FDA must now finish classification within one year of the close of the public comment period on its amalgam policy, that is, by July 28, 2009.

As part of the settlement, the FDA agreed to and, with uncharacteristic speed, has already changed its website— dramatically. The Updated June 3, 2008 FDA website now states, for example:
Dental amalgams contain mercury, which may have neurotoxic effects on the nervous systems of developing children and fetus.” “Pregnant women and persons who may have a health condition that makes them more sensitive to mercury exposure, including individuals with existing high levels of mercury bioburden, should not avoid seeking dental care, but should discuss options with their health practitioner.”

The FDA website also now states that “Some other countries follow a “precautionary principle” and avoid the use of dental amalgam in pregnant women” and provides links to advice about amalgams from regulatory agencies in other countries, including Canada , France and Sweden. These warnings are similar to those sent from the manufacturers. Encapsulated dental amalgam arrives at a dentist’s office with skull and cross bones affixed next to the words “POISON, CONTAINS METALLIC MERCURY.” Amalgam manufacturers – Kerr, Vivadent and Dentsply – advise dentists against placing amalgam in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children under six, and anyone with kidney disease. Dentsply warns: “Contraindication (N.B.: “Contraindication” is a directive to forbid, not just a “warning.”) “In children 6 and under” and “In expectant mothers.” However, these warnings appear not to have been passed to the public, based on the results of a national poll conducted for MPP by Zogby International whereby most Americans (76 percent) don’t know mercury is the primary component of amalgam fillings; 92 percent of Americans overwhelmingly want to be informed of their options with respect to mercury and non-mercury dental filling materials prior to treatment; and 77 percent of Americans would choose higher cost fillings that do not contain mercury if given the choice.

Brown Researchers Create Mercury-Absorbent Container Linings for Broken CFLs

Brown University researchers have discovered a nanomaterial that can absorb the mercury emitted from a broken compact fluorescent lamp (CFL). The researchers, led by Robert Hurt, professor of engineering, and engineering student Natalie Johnson, have created a mercury-absorbent container lining that can be used commercially. The packaging invention, for which Brown has applied for federal patents, would relieve a major concern with CFL use and comes as CFL sales are projected to skyrocket. For more information, see the link to the Brown University press release.