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23.09.2017

Governments discuss global ban on mercury mines

The first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on mercury will start tomorrow. 76 countries, including Germany, have ratified the convention so far.

First Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention in Geneva

The first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on mercury will start tomorrow. 76 countries, including Germany, have ratified the convention so far. Due to its volatility, the highly toxic heavy metal mercury is capable of spreading over long distances - in particular through air and water. The Convention is aimed at curbing the global use of mercury or mercury compounds and the ancillary discharges and releases into air, water and soil and at protecting the public and the environment from this hazardous substance. In the European Union the use and emissions of mercury are already under strict regulation.

The first Conference of the Parties will be held in Geneva from 24 to 29 September. The Minamata Convention entered into force on 16 August 2017. Germany ratified the Convention in September.

Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks commented: “The Minamata Convention is a major milestone in international environmental policy. It establishes a global mitigation strategy, which will contribute to a marked reduction in the dangers posed by this highly toxic substance.”

The Convention places a ban on the operation of new mercury mines and limits the use of mercury in industrial processes. Furthermore, it introduces a medium-term restriction on the use of mercury in small-scale gold mining. Under the Convention the signatories must ensure that no new mercury mines are opened and that extraction in existing mines is limited to between five and ten years.

The Convention also sets out rules for the recovery and recycling of existing mercury stocks and for the treatment of mercury waste.

The negotiations will focus on the establishment of a permanent secretariat to monitor the implementation of the agreement and on the budget. The aim is also to adopt guidelines for the practical implementation of the provisions.

Even very small amounts of mercury may damage the nervous, respiratory and digestive systems. In particular pregnant women, infants and children are at risk. In Germany the level of mercury concentrations is generally so low that human health is not at risk.

23.09.2017 | Pressreport No 314/17 | Chemical Safety