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European Commission

Press release

Brussels, 19 January 2013

Commission welcomes new global agreement to tackle mercury

Today the European Commission welcomed the successful conclusion of the multilateral negotiations to address the global threat posed to human health and the environment by mercury. This follows the decision of the Governing Council of UNEP in February 2009 to develop a global legally binding instrument on mercury and the subsequent creation of an International Negotiating Committee to conclude on the text of a mercury Treaty that held its final meeting this week. The EU was a key driver for the launch of this negotiating process.

"We have reached a robust, balanced and dynamic environmental agreement", said Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Environment "I wish to congratulate all negotiating partners who made this success possible. Whilst the EU has an overarching strategy for controlling mercury at all stages of the mercury life-cycle, such controls are unfortunately lacking in many parts of the world. This new Treaty will bring benefits to all populations around the world, including the citizens of the EU given the long distances that mercury can travel in the air. Pregnant women, infants and children are at particular risk from mercury in the food-chain and this Treaty will bring about significant decreases to their exposure to this toxic substance."

The Treaty covers all aspects of the mercury life cycle, from primary mining to waste disposal, including trade provisions, rules for artisanal and small scale gold mining, products containing mercury and mercury emissions to air. It also contains provisions allowing for the future development of the Mercury Treaty in order to provide for further targeted action to be taken. "It would be unrealistic to expect more than one hundred countries around the world, with economies and living conditions significantly different to those of European citizens, to simply live up to our environmental standards here and now. But the new Treaty is a forceful driver towards a comprehensive mercury phase-out, and we are proud to see that many EU concepts and ideas have made its way into the text. The EU has fought for a global Mercury Treaty for almost seven years – and now we are there," confirmed Commissioner Potočnik.

The diplomatic ceremony for the official signature of the Mercury Treaty will take place in October of this year in the Japanese town of Minamata, where one of the worst cases of mercury pollution occurred more than fifty years ago leading to severe health effects for the local population.

Background

Mercury is a chemical with neurotoxic effects, widely used in industrial processes and in products like batteries or thermometers. Unintentional releases of mercury into the air contribute massively to the global mercury problem. Within the EU the substance is already strictly regulated.

For more information, see the Commissions mercury website: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/mercury/

For details on the negotiation process as well as on the global mercury assessment, see

http://www.unep.org/hazardoussubstances/Mercury/Negotiations/tabid/3320/Default.aspx

Contacts :

Joe Hennon (+32 2 295 35 93)

Monica Westeren (+32 2 299 18 30)


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