Joined by the EU, Canada and other developed countries, the U.S. opposed a separate health provision during the fourth (of five) mercury treaty negotiation earlier this week in Punta del Este, Uruguay. “This is an example of north–south double standard over whether health issues will be addressed equitably,” stated Michael Bender , MPP director, who provided a statement on behalf of the Zero Mercury Working Group during the negotiation. “Mercury is a basic human rights issue. Health strategies to address reducing exposure to mercury must be included in this treaty.”
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.
State and national groups, including MPP, are pushing states to enact strong’ bounty’ programs to increase collection of mercury products such as thermostats. In Maine, we recently wrote to block the push by DEP to eliminate a landmark producer responsibility laws for mercury, as it appears that industry has had undue influence without allowing other stakeholders to participate in the review progress. In California, we recently wrote the environmental agency, urging them to provides for the maximum feasible number of mercury thermostats collected, consistent with the Legislature’s intent.
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.”
12 scientists recently wrote FDA and the Ag Dept. requesting that misleading or erroneos information on mercury exposure risks from fish be corrected and update in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Unfortunately, the advice in the 2010 Guidelines includes the suggestion (on page 39 ) that pregnant women “can eat all types of tuna,” despite the fact that tuna accounts for the largest share of methylmercury in the American diet, contributing 37 percent of the total. They point out that the Guidelines contain serious scientific deficiencies and that any risk-communication errors could affect consumer perceptions of the risks associated with fish consumption and potentially result in significant harm to public health, particulary in pregnant women.
On Thursday, the Vermont legislature passed a bill creating an extended producer responsibility recycling program for mercury-containing light bulbs and setting mercury content standards, modeled after the EU. Pending the Governor’s approval, Vermont will become the third state to establish such a program, following a law first passed in Maine (supported by a report– also see fact sheet) and then a second in Washington, where a weblink explains it. “This law will help continue an important lamp recycling program.” said Senator Virginai Lyons (D-Chittenden), lead sponsor of the legislation. “Protecting our waterways and other natural resources from mercury exposure is vitally important,” said Representative David Deen (D-Windham-5). More information on the retail lamp collection program is available here.
A key U.S. House Committee today adopted an amendment offered by Congressman Dennis Kucinich to H.R. 5504, which requires USDA to inform schools and those in WIC programs to avoid higher mercury fish. “There is no reason for the government to help kids grow up healthy with one hand while impairing them with the other,” said Kucinich. In addition, MPP and Got Mercury! recently filed comments on the USDA’s draft Committee Report , outlining steps to reduce mercury exposure.
Thirty academic scientists, medical doctors and consumer advocates wrote to FDA and EPA last Friday, urging them to strengthen the Federal fish consumption advisory for mercury and also to do a better job of warning consumers. “Recent research shows that both beneficial effects of fish nutrients and harm from mercury exposure occur in a baby’s developing brain when a pregnant woman eats ordinary amounts of fish,” said Edward Groth III, PhD, a Mercury Policy Project science consultant. “There is no evidence of a threshold for the harmful effects of mercury, and even the amount in a single can of tuna should probably be avoided.”
The U.S. House Government Oversight Subcommittee on Domestic Policy held a hearing on Wednesday, May 26 on “Assessing EPA’s Efforts To Measure And Reduce Mercury Pollution From Dentist Offices.” At the hearing, MPP presented its testimony and a new report, “Midnight Deal on Dental Mercury.” Several online services reported on the meeting and/or MPP’s report. Testifying at the hearing were EPA, the American Dental Association, an amalgam separator manufacturer, a scientist and MPP’. Earlier, EPA had responded to an letter from Domestic Policy Subcommittee Chairman Dennis Kucinich regarding air releases and the Agency’s MOU with the ADA on dental mercury releases. In response, MPP wrote a letter to Chairman Kucinich, to clarify the record regarding our “stakeholder” role.