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Issue 38
, 2013
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UN committee seeks to work out a treaty on mercury

Source: Times of India, Date: , 2013

NEW DELHI: The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee will work to prepare a globally binding instrument on mercury at a session organised by United Nations Environment Programme. The session, which began in Geneva on Saturday, will continue till Jan 18.

"The treaty is expected to include actions to reduce among other things, the supply and trade of mercury, its use in products and atmospheric emissions, which will ultimately reduce human exposure to mercury globally," says Satish Sinha, associate director, Toxics Link, who is also in the committee.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Mercury Assessments, finalized in December 2002, underlined the following points: (a) the global scale and severity of toxic mercury contaminations of life forms and ecosystems in all regions of the planet (b) as a toxic substance of global concern, mercury causes significant harm to wildlife, ecosystems and human health in general and to some populations, most notably the foetus and young children who are especially susceptible; and (c) mercury is a major threat to fish which is an all important and valuable nutritious component of the human diet.

Mercury, contained in coal and other minerals, is released into the air mainly from thermal power plants and metal-smelting facilities.

According to Sinha, the technology is available to manage mercury pollution, but political will is in short supply. "We know how to control mercury emissions. There are mercury-free alternatives for nearly all mercury-containing products and industrial processes. What is missing is the political will to make the necessary commitments to phase out its use and put the needed controls and alternatives in place," he says.

As a step to reduce global mercury pollution, the United Nations General Assembly on the environment in 2009 adopted a decision to develop a legally binding instrument on mercury.