07 Sep The Minamata Convention on Mercury
A GLOBAL TREATY MAKING MERCURY HISTORY
Minamata was a peaceful town on the Japanese island of Kyushu, mainly known for its beautiful Minamata Bay. But in the early 1950s, the harmony in the fishing town was disturbed when the cats started to behave strangely; dancing around, screeching, scratching – it was the beginning of a human and ecological tragedy.
The drastic effects of mercury pollution in Minamata
Today, the danger of mercury pollution is globally known. This wasn’t the case when between 1932 and 1968 the local chemical factory Chisso Corporation started to release methylmercury into the industrial wastewater. It took a while before the effects of this industrial wastewater showed. The cats were the first to feel the effects of mercury poisoning. Then residents started suffering from splitting headaches, tunnel vision, and eventually severe deformities.
Mercury in the industrial waste water discharged into public water was being concentrated in fish and shellfish through bioaccumulation. Those who ate substantial quantities of the contaminated fish and shellfish were poisoned. This was called Minamata Disease. The in 1956 officially discovered mercury pollution resulted in more than 2000 people dying from eating contaminated seafood, and thousands more suffering life-long damage and disabilities.
The Minamata Convention, protecting health and environment from mercury
Mercury – a naturally occurring and ubiquitous metal – is widely used in everyday objects such as thermometers. It moves with air and water, transcends borders and can be transported thousands of miles in the atmosphere. Human activities such as coal burning further exacerbate the natural sources of mercury emissions. Due to these widespread anthropogenic releases, it is a problem that requires global action. That is why in 2013, after three years of negotiations, delegates from over 140 countries adopted the Minamata Convention of Mercury.
What is the goal of this United Nations Treaty? Protecting human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury and its compounds. Since the Convention achieved the needed 50 ratifications (51 to be precise), it has entered into force in August 2017. The first Conference of the Parties to the Convention takes place from 24 to 29 September 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Measures to make mercury history
Major highlights of the Minamata Convention include a ban on new mercury mines, the phase out of existing ones, the phase out and phase down of mercury use in a number of products and processes, control measures on emissions to air and on releases to land and water, and the regulation of the informal sector of artisanal and small-scale gold mining. The Convention addresses interim storage of mercury and its disposal once it becomes waste, and sites contaminated by mercury. There is also a focus on neurological and other health effects, particularly on unborn children and infants. By implementing these measures, an overall reduction in mercury levels in the environment should be reached over time.
BSEF and the role of bromine on the Minamata Convention on Mercury
BSEF shares the concern about mercury and its persistence in the environment. Once anthropogenically released, it has an ability to bio-accumulate in ecosystems and create significant negative effects on human health and the environment.
That is why we support the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and why we will be present at the Convention in Geneva.
Do you want to know more about mercury pollution? Discover the role bromine plays in the reduction of mercury emissions (link to article 2), and thus in the implementation of the international Minamata Convention on Mercury.
What are your thoughts on the program and the goals of the Minamata Convention?
Do not hesitate to share this article, to give your opinion and to start the conversation. Because the broader this environmental issue is addressed and talked about, the bigger the awareness on mercury pollution.
And at BSEF, we think awareness is the first step towards change.