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Published Date: Jan 19, 2013

Mercury treaty adopted in Geneva by 140 countries

GENEVA: Delegations from some 140 countries have agreed
to adopt a ground-breaking treaty limiting the use of health-hazardous mercury,
the Swiss foreign ministry said Saturday.

world’s first legally binding treaty on mercury, reached after a week of thorny
talks, will aim to reduce global emission levels of the toxic heavy metal also
known as quicksilver, which poses risks to human health and the environment.

which along with Norway initiated the process a decade ago, hailed the
consensus on the issue.

new treaty aims to reduce the production and the use of mercury, especially in
the production of products and in industrial processes,” the Swiss foreign
ministry said in a statement.

will be asked to sign the treaty next October in Minamata, Japan, in honour of
the town’s inhabitants who for decades have suffered the consequences of
serious mercury contamination, the statement said.

adoption of the mercury treaty shows the vitality of international
environmental politics and the will of states to together find solutions to
world problems,” head of the Swiss delegation to the talks, Franz Perrez, said
in the statement.

is found in products ranging from electrical switches to thermometers to
light-bulbs, to amalgam dental fillings and even facial creams, and large
amounts of the heavy metal are released from small-scale gold mining,
coal-burning power plants, metal smelters and cement production.

mercury poisoning affects the body’s immune system and can lead to problems
including psychological disorders, loss of teeth and problems with the
digestive, cardiovascular and respiratory tracts.

also affects development of the brain and nervous system and poses the greatest
risk to foetuses and infants.

of the Geneva conference, the UN’s environmental programme provided the first
global assessment of releases of mercury into rivers and lakes.

the past 100 years, man-made emissions have caused the amount of mercury in the
top 100 metres of the world’s oceans to double. Concentrations in deeper waters
have increased by up to 25 per cent,” the agency said, adding that much human
exposure to mercury is through the consumption of contaminated fish.

also highlighted rising levels of mercury in the Arctic, where 200 tonnes of
the substance are deposited every year.

UN agency’s study also found that developing countries were especially
vulnerable to direct mercury contamination owing mainly to the widespread use
of the element in small-scale gold mining and to the burning of coal for
electricity generation.

exposure “poses a direct threat to the health of some 10-15 million people who
are directly involved in small scale gold mining, mainly in Africa, Asia and
South America,” UNEP said.