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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
World governments today completed the first step towards a mercury treaty, issuing a meeting report and providing the basis for developing treaty text for INC2 in Japan in January 2011, according to ZMWG and press reports. NGOs lauded W.H.O. for supporting mercury reductions. “We applaud W.H.O.’s statement to stop production of skin cosmetics containing mercury, as they are an exposure risk worldwide ,” said MPP director Bender. “We welcome W.H.O’s interest in “phasing down” amalgam, which is reflective of the WHO meeting last fall, and consistent with what NGOs wrote to WHO on.” This may be of interest in the US as FDA decided yesterday to review amalgam risks.