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IP/07/1055

Brussels, 10th July 2007

Commission welcomes Parliament agreement to significantly reduce use of mercury

The European Commission welcomes the adoption by the European Parliament of the proposal to phase out the use of toxic mercury in measuring devices, where it can be substituted by safer alternatives, in order to protect health and environment. The agreement will phase out the use of mercury in new fever thermometers for professional and private use and in all other measuring devices such as room thermometers, blood-pressure gauges, and – after two years - barometers which are sold to the general public. Antique instruments will not be affected by the proposal. The Member States have also signalled their agreement with the Directive, which is therefore expected to enter into force soon.

Commission Vice President Günter Verheugen, responsible for enterprise and industry policy, said: “I welcome the agreement between the European Parliament and the Council on this file. This measure is good for our citizen’s health and for the environment. At the same time, essential uses in medical devices will still be permitted, and enterprises producing barometers affected by the new requirements will be given a reasonable time to adapt. Trade in antique instruments can continue.”

The aim of this directive is to reduce the industrial demand for mercury and thereby reduce the amount of mercury entering into the environment via the waste stream. It is expected that the ban will lead to an annual reduction of mercury emissions by 33 tons in the EU, of which 25-30 tons alone come from thermometers, for which safe alternatives are already available. The directive will have a beneficial effect on the health of EU citizens and the environment. It will also establish uniform rules for marketing of measuring devices containing mercury on the internal market, as the rules in the Member States currently differ.

Mercury and its compounds are highly toxic to humans, ecosystems and wildlife. In the environment, mercury changes into methyl mercury, its most toxic form. Methyl mercury concentrates in food, in particular seafood, making people with a high intake of seafood particularly vulnerable (especially in the coastal areas of the Mediterranean).

Fever thermometers and similar products currently end up in land- fills with the potential for long term leaching. Although an increasing proportion of equipment is collected and the mercury recovered, emissions are still significant.

It is estimated that 80-90% of all mercury contained in measuring devices is used in medical thermometers and in household thermometers. Specialist applications, in particular measuring devices for medical uses are excluded from the scope of this proposal because non-mercury instruments of equal performance and reliability are not yet available.

Antique mercury-containing measuring devices will be exempted as such trade is limited and seems to pose no risk to health or environment. However, the placing on the market of new mercury containing barometers for consumers will end after a transition period of two years, considering that mercury-free alternatives are already available for these mainly decorative devices. The transition period will be sufficient for producers of mercury barometers to adapt their businesses to the alternative products.

All the interested parties have been consulted through a very wide consultation process in the course of preparing the Mercury Strategy..
For further information on the mercury proposal:

http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/chemicals/legislation/markrestr/preparation_en.htm

and on the Commission’s mercury strategy:

http://europa.eu.int/comm/environment/chemicals/mercury


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