Oxford Workshop: Safe Storage and Disposal of Redundant Mercury

October 13-14, 2009, Oxford, UK

The Oxford Workshop was funded by the UK government to consider the scientific and engineering issues associates with safe disposal and storage of redundant mercury.   It was organized in preparation for the EU’s ban on exports to take effect in March 2011.  MPP’s director, as the interim chair of the UNEP Mercury Storage-supply Partnership,  presented, “Mercury Storage-Supply Partnership and Related Initiatives” at this workshop.  IKIMP has made the complete presentations available online.

Study Reveals 92% of the Arctic Mercury Contamination Manmade

A joint scientific effort by the National Environmental Research Institute in Denmark, the Geological Survey of Canada, and Environment Canada, answers the question of how much mercury concentrations in the Arctic is natural and how much is man-made.  Through the tests of Arctic marine wildlife teeth, hair and feathers, and comparisons with historical samples, they found that mercury levels rose in the mid-19th century and accelerated in the 20th century. The sharp increase corresponds to the industrial revolution.  Although there is no major mercury source in the region, mercury pollution is brought to the area through the atmosphere, ocean currents, and rivers. The study found that the average man-made contribution to  current mercury concentrations is 92.4%.  The significant increase in mercury concentrations in marine foodwebs in the Arctic have reached dangerous levels where negative biological consequences are expected.  People living in these areas and eating at the top of this food chain may see neurological development disorders in their children.

Japan Urged to Ban Mercury Exports

Japanese NGOs are joining world wide efforts to promote national mercury export bans.  The EU and U.S. recently passed mercury export bans.  Japan’s decision to ban mercury export would accelerate the voluntary worldwide mercury partnership while the UNEP finalizes an effective international mercury treaty.

Mr. Takeshi Yasuma, representing the Japanese NGO Citizens Against Chemical Pollution, reports they have launched an initiative to push the Japanese government to enact a much needed ban on mercury exports. Ban Toxics, in coordination with MPP, is supporting efforts to encourage Japan to enact a mercury export ban.  To help our Japanese colleagues in circulating this statement and to collect the signatures of all who believe that Japan needs to stop its mercury exports, link to the signature-collection campaign. Signatures will be collected until August 31, 2009, at which time they will be presented to the Japanese Government during an NGO/Government meeting on mercury.

Conference Demonstrates Feasibility of Mercury-free Hospitals

Environmental and health NGOs, including EEB, ZMWG and HCWH, released a report today at their conference in Brussels clearly demonstrating that the transition to mercury-free measuring devices including sphygmomanometers in hospitals is technologically and economically feasible. The European Commission is in the process of reviewing the availability of reliable safer mercury-free alternatives and if appropriate, will present a legislative proposal to extend restrictions for relevant identified uses by October 2009.

“Switching to mercury-free sphygmos should not cause any problems in terms of clinical diagnosis and monitoring. In fact it should improve the accuracy of blood pressure measurement in clinical settings,” (see press release) said Peter Orris, MD, a Professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, a WHO Collaborating Center in Occupational and Environmental Health and speaker at today’s conference. Many hospitals in the EU have already implemented this change since suitable mercury-free alternatives are currently available on the market.

Asian Coal Plants Linked to 30% Increase in Pacific Ocean Water Mercury Levels

Recent analysis of ocean water samples across the Pacific point to Asian coal plants as the likely source of dramatic increases total mercury levels in the North Pacific Ocean over the last 20 years.  If present trends continue, the U.S. Geological Survey report  projects a doubling of oceanic mercury concentrations by the year 2050.  Oceanic mercury is converted to MethylMercury by algae, and then bioaccumulates up the food chain as algae is eaten by fish.  Fish harvested from the Pacific Ocean are a major contributor to human MethylMercury exposure, which is why scientists are focusing on the important health and ecological concern of the source of the oceanic mercury.  For more inforamtion see highlights on the USGS website.

Garfield Foundation Assessment

The Garfield Foundation conducted an assessment of its Mercury Source Reduction (MSR) program, including MPP activities, in order to assess the impact of GF’s MSR work in the international arena.  The report proclaims success: “Scarcely five years later, there is virtually no important aspect of global mercury policy that has not been shaped or influenced by key NGOs… these NGOs have achieved results even beyond their own expectations.”

MPP’s Director is Appointed Interim Chair of New Mercury Storage-Supply Partnership

The first meeting of the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership Advisory Group (PAG) was held March 31-April 2nd in Geneva, Switzerland. At this meeting Michael Bender, director of MPP and representing ZMWG, was appointed interim chair of a new proposed Partnership related to surplus mercury and supply issues.  The PAG recognizes that mercury storage is closely linked to supply issues, and is therefore actively seeking a government representative to take the lead for the storage-supply partnership by October 2009.  In the interim, ZMWG will update the PAG business plan, encourage progress on projects, and expand membership, while  working collaboratively with UNEP to identify a government lead or co-lead for the Partnership.  ZMWG’s letter further outlines the next steps forward for the Storage-Supply Partnership, with which UNEP concurs.

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 www.zeromercury.org.

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.”