On behalf of CSPI and MPP, Earthjustice recently filed a lawsuit in federal court against FDA for failing to respond to our 2011 petition requesting the Agency to give consumers clear, accurate and accessible information about mercury in seafood (as recent press reports explain.) The lawsuit seeks a court-ordered deadline since under its own regulations, FDA had 180 days to respond and its failure to do so violates federal law. In 2004, FDA acknowledged MeHg exposure risks when it issued an online advisory based on now outdated research. Several recent studies suggest adverse effects at exposure levels 10-fold lower than those considered acceptable a decade ago.
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.
October 19-23, 2009, Bangkok, Thailand
In preparation of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee’s (INC’s) discussion of a global mercury treaty in 2010, the OEWG is holding information sessions on mercury supply, storage, artisanal and small-scale gold mining, products, and wastes. The OEWG will establish timetables and organization of the INC as well as discuss priorities. MPP’s director, on behalf of Zero Mercury Working Group, presented Mercury Storage-Supply Partnership and Related Initiatives at the OEWG.
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.
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.
After a long series of delays, US EPA finally announced that it is establishing, in consort with other federal partners, a stakeholder panel process to provide the U.S. government with a range of options for better managing non-federal mercury supplies. As part of this process, the panel will hold a series of public meetings over a six-month period beginning with the first meeting in Washington, D.C., on May 8. The charge to the panel is to consider: 1 ) how the various stocks of mercury should be managed both in the short-term and the long-term, and 2 ) how current and future supply and demand affect this determination for each of the various stocks. As a starting point, EPA has distributed a background paper. The public can also provide written comments on the issues the stakeholder panel. When sending in comments, mention that the Docket Identification Number is EPA-HQ-OPPT-2007-0148. More information about the stakeholder panel and the EPA “Roadmap for Mercury ” is available on the EPA web site.
In a response to a letter from Senator Barack Obama, Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman cites recognition of both health and environmental concerns for reasons why the DOE “has no current plans to sell” their stockpile of over 1,200 metric tons of mercury. According to a draft background document, “DOE will continue to store its mercury stocks while investigating alternative long-term storage options.” The December 18, 2006 background draft also states that “.. the U.S. Government’s actions not to sell mercury on the open market sends a positive message to both private and state domestic mercury holders, as well as to global mercury policy makers…By committing to long-term storage of U.S. owned mercury, the U.S. Government can develop a position for the UNEP Governing Council meeting that: 1) Indicates that the U.S. has committed to storing 70% of its stocks, and 2) the U.S. Government has in place a stakeholder process that will develop options for management of its remaining nonfederal stocks of mercury.”
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is considering selling some 1,300 tons of surplus mercury on the international market, prompting urgent warnings from health organizations such as NRDC and MPP that the toxic metal would easily find its way back into the domestic food chain from the developing world. The DOE stockpile is more than eight times the amount exported in 2004 by all U.S. companies combined. Once used in weapons and other energy-related technologies, the mercury is now obsolete for DOE functions and no longer of any use to the government. Exported mercury also poses a substantial direct health risk to workers around the world, said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project. “As many as 15 million gold miners in more than 40 countries, for example, are at risk from high-concentration mercury vapors and mercury intoxication, which can lead to severe nervous system poisoning,” he said. “The U.S. government has a moral obligation to restrict its exports to developing countries, as the European Union recently proposed to do by 2011.”
As the U.S. considers surplus mercury issues, NGOs welcomed an EU regulation to ban mercury exports and ensure safe storage of surplus mercury so that this dangerous neurotoxin will not re-enter the global market. The proposed EU export ban sends a clear message to world governments and the upcoming UNEP Governing Council meeting in February 2007 that mercury exports should be curtailed globally, say NGOs. Mercury trade to over 50 developing countries, according to EU reports exposes miners to severe health impacts when used in gold mining and also pollutes the global environment, according to the UNIDO Global Mercury Project . “We’ve got to stop the cycle of toxic trade and contamination which ends up polluting our lunch sandwiches and dinners in the US,” said Michael Bender of MPP and Zero Mercury Working Group (see coverage). “The Commission recognized that it is very important that mercury supply and demand are addressed simultaneously.” The U.S. EPA has stated that it will initiate discussions on the surplus mercury issue in its Roadmap on Mercury in 2006. “Ultimately, it will be important to look at ways to permanently “retire” non-federally owned or managed commodity-grade mercury that will eventually have little or even negative economic value,” states the Roadmap. The Department of Defense has decided to permanently store, rather than sell, over 4,000 tons of surplus mercury.