The Federal Republic of Germany has signed the new UN Mercury Convention. At the signing ceremony today, the Minamata Convention, which aims to limit mercury emissions, was signed by over 110 states including Brazil, China, South Africa, Mexico and the EU Member States.
The convention aims to limit mercury emissions worldwide and thus protect humans and the environment from this highly dangerous and toxic substance. For instance, the Parties to the convention are forbidden from opening new mercury mines. The use of mercury in industry will also be dramatically restricted. Minimum standards are to be put in place for the storage and treatment of mercury containing waste. The convention also envisages a monitoring mechanism that will ensure requirements are fulfilled.
The convention was named after the Japanese city Minamata, where thousands of people were poisoned in the mid 1950s by waste water containing mercury that was discharged by a local chemical plant. Minamata was one of the first health disasters caused by the improper handling of chemicals wastes.
Mercury is a highly toxic heavy metal that is fatal in high doses. Due to its high volatility mercury can be transported over long distances throughout the atmosphere. Every year for instance roughly 200 tonnes of mercury, often far from its source, are found in the Arctic region. Here the heavy metal is absorbed by fish and can thus even enter the food chain in Germany.
Following the signing today, the convention will take effect once ratified by the minimum 50 signatory states. In Germany, the Bundestag together with the Bundesrat (Federal Council) still have to approve the convention.