Agreement to curb mercury leakage worldwide

agreement to curb mercury leakage worldwide

Germany and many other countries signed an agreement in minamata, japan, to reduce global mercury emissions. According to the "minamata convention", it will, among other things, be generally forbidden from 2020 to produce or sell products containing mercury, such as various batteries, cosmetics, thermometers or certain light bulbs.

The treaty will enter into force when at least 50 of the more than 110 signatory countries have ratified it. According to representatives of the UN environment program (unep), this could take three to five years. In addition to germany, brazil, china, south africa, mexico and the EU have also signed the new environmental agreement.

The aim of the "minamata convention" is to contain mercury emissions worldwide and thus protect people and the environment from the highly toxic heavy metal. The opening of new mercury mines in the treaty countries should be prohibited. The use of mercury in industry is also being significantly restricted.

There will be minimum standards for the storage and treatment of mercury-containing waste in the future. The convention also provides for a monitoring mechanism to ensure compliance with the requirements. Mercury is lethal in high doses.

Due to its high volatility, it spreads widely in the atmosphere. Researchers find the highest mercury levels in the cold regions near the poles. For example, according to unep estimates, about 200 tons of mercury enter the arctic every year. There it is absorbed by fish and can also enter the food chain in germany, the federal environment ministry explained. In germany, the environmental agreement still has to be approved by the bundestag with the participation of the bundesrat (upper house of parliament).

Experts hail it as a milestone for the environment. This was preceded by almost four years of negotiations, which were only concluded in geneva in january. Mercury is one of the most dangerous toxic substances of all. In minamata, thousands of people were poisoned by the heavy metal in the mid-1950s after the japanese chemical company chisso discharged mercury-containing wastewater into the local sea bay. Minamata disease, which is named after it, begins with headaches and limb pain and leads to paralysis, psychosis, deformities, and organ and nerve damage.

Many people died as a result of their poisoning. This case was one of the first environmental disasters to receive worldwide attention, which was triggered by the incorrect handling of chemical waste. The name "minamata convention" is intended to commemorate the victims and at the same time warn of the consequences of mercury emissions and the careless handling of the heavy metal. According to the german federal ministry for the environment, strict regulations on the containment of mercury emissions are already largely in place in europe, as they are in the USA. However, the situation is different in asia, africa and south america.

For example, emerging economies such as china and india are causing huge emissions of mercury with the increasing burning of coal in power plants. According to the unep, the main polluter is gold mining. While large-scale industrial facilities are at least halay controlling their emissions, mercury emissions from small-scale gold mining are growing dramatically, for example in africa and south america.

The ban on new mercury mines and the introduction of alternative technologies that protect the environment and human health are intended to encourage gold miners to abandon the use of mercury. But no one knows how quickly exposure to the substance will fall with the help of the convention. Critics also complain that the agreement does not address compensation for victims or the question of who should be held accountable for cleaning up mercury-contaminated areas.

Among the victims in minamata, the convention triggered mixed reactions. A representative of a victims’ association in minamata, for example, complained that the convention was "seriously flawed" because it did not address the responsibility of polluters for mercury pollution. The victims of minamata are still suffering from the consequences of the disaster and the scandalous behavior of the chemical company and the government. They were not only severely discriminated against. Also they had to fight in lengthy processes each one for indemnification.

More than 2000 victims have been recognized by the government, but only a few hundred are still alive. Thousands of others who also claimed compensation came away empty-handed. Japan has a responsibility to do all it can to play a leading role in eliminating the harm caused by mercury in the world, head of government shinzo abe says. Many perceive this as a mockery. Some fear that victims of the gaus in fukushima will suffer similar fate.

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