The Minamata Convention, a UN International Treaty was finalized and signed by 140 nations, Thursday, October 10, 2013. The treaty is designed to limit mercury use and emissions internationally. Here is a summary of what the nations agree to do (and what they don’t do).
- Coal-fired plants, boilers and smelters must require the best available emission-control technologies on new power plants, boilers, and smelters but exempt all older plants.
- Compact fluorescent light bulbs of 30 watts or less will be banned by 2020, if they exceed 5 milligrams of mercury
- New mercury mining will be banned but mines already in operation can continue for 15 years and then will be banned.
- Gold mining in small-scale operations will still allow mercury to extract the gold. The treaty encourages nations to reduce or phase out mercury use but no targets or dates are included.
- Mercury dental fillings are exempt from the 2020 ban.
- Vaccines that use mercury compounds (thimerosal) as a preservative are exempt.
- Batteries containing mercury will be banned by 2020 except button-cell batteries use in implantable medical devices.
- Switches and relays containing mercury will be banned by 2020.
- Soaps and cosmetics containing more than 1 part per million will be banned by 2020. Mascara and other eye-area cosmetics are exempt.
- Certain medical and monitoring devices– including barometers, thermometers, hygrometers, manometers and blood pressure monitors – will be banned by 2020.
- Religious and traditional activities that use mercury are exempt from the treaty.
- Mercury will be banned from chlor-alkali production and acetaldehyde production in 2025 and 2018 respectively. Manufacturing of polyurethane, vinyl chloride monomer and sodium or potassium methylate or eythlate are exempt.
Although it is good to see the international cooperation in trying to get rid of mercury in our world’s environment, you can see from the exemptions that we have some work to go. Powerful concerns achieved exemptions for both dental fillings and vaccines. These two areas of exposure have the largest health impact on the public’s health and could have significantly helped rid this toxic metal from causing numerous health problems. Maybe continuing international health talks, especially with public support, can achieve a ban on mercury dental fillings and thimerosal in vaccines in the future.