The historical Minamata mercury treaty is a product of the Minamata Convention that was held in January 2013. After a grueling week of negotiations, the treaty established the first global standards for limiting mercury pollution. Control and reduction targets will be set for many industries, products and manufacturing processes using mercury.
According to a Jan. 27 article in the Duluth News Tribune, the treaty will be finalized during the week of Oct. 9-11 in Minamata, Japan. This setting was chosen to recognize the damage caused by mercury poisoning when Chisso Corporation released wastewater containing methyl-mercury into the sea.
More than 140 countries participated in the Jan.19 negotiations in Geneva. The Minimata mercury treaty prohibits imports and exports of mercury. Signatory countries agree to stop producing, exporting and importing thermometers and batteries that contain mercury. Fluorescent lights will be prohibited as well. The goal is to contain mercury to a certain amount by 2020.
This places a burden on developing nations where poor miners use mercury to extract gold they sell to wealthier nations. Asia hosts developing nations that rely heavily on coal-fired power plants to electrify their economies. Coal burning produces mercury as a by-product that is released into the environment.
Japan requested a provision that would oblige polluters to compensate victims and restore polluted environments to their original state, but according to a Jan. 25 Japan Times article, the request was denied.
Members of the European Union are well aware of the damage caused by mercury. One study said that up to 2 million children are born every year with learning deficiencies that relate to mercury exposure. The study estimated that mental health damage costs EU member nations $12 billion a year in lost income.
The U.S. enacted a U.S. that took effect in Jan. 2013. Exporting elemental mercury from the U.S. is now illegal. The goal of this law is to reduce the amount of mercury that enters the global markets.