Linking Science and Policy to Support the Implementation of the Minamata Convention

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Henrik Selin, Boston University; Susan Keane, National Resources Defense Council; Shuxiao Wang, Tsinghua University (et al)
When: Monday, July 17, 2017 — 8:30 am – 9:30 am
Where: Rhode Island Convention Center in Exhibition Hall C

The Minamata Convention on Mercury, which was adopted in 2013, will enter into force in August 2017. The objective of the Convention is to “protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds” (Article 1). As the convention, which outlines a life-cycle approach to the production, use, emissions, releases and handling of mercury, moves into the implementation phase, different types of scientific information and assessments are critically needed to support decision-making and management toward meeting its objective. Plenary 1 is a synopsis of a synthesis article that summarizes the status of existing efforts to link scientific knowledge to mercury policy and decision making, and identifies key research needed to further support Convention-related policy making. The synthesis specifically offers guidance for researchers, policy makers, and stakeholders who wish to connect with international, national, and local efforts related to the Minamata Convention in three focal areas: i) uses, emissions and releases; ii) impacts and effectiveness; and iii) awareness raising and science-based education.
The plenary will consist of a round table forum. It will begin with each participant telling a short story related to the three focal areas, relating how the scientific evidence produced in these areas has already and will continue to shape the successful implementation of the Minamata Convention. This will be followed by a moderated discussion that will also include questions from the audience.

How do global environmental mercury processes respond to human and natural perturbations? Impacts of emissions and climate and land use change

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Daniel Obrist, University of Massachusetts; Jane Kirk, Environment Canada (et al)
When: Tuesday, July 18, 2017 — 8:30 am – 9:30 am
Where: Rhode Island Convention Center in Exhibition Hall C

We review current knowledge of important processes for the global distribution of mercury (Hg), including recent research advances, current uncertainties, and best estimates of concentrations and pools sizes in the atmospheric, terrestrial, and aquatic environments. Recent advances include the availability of new global datasets with measurements that now cover areas of the world where previously environmental Hg data were missing. Integration of such data into global and regional models are continually improving estimates of global Hg cycling. Stable Hg isotopes techniques now provide valuable tools to quantify Hg sources, study transformation processes, and help constrain the relative importance of specific sources and transformation in the global context. Key uncertainties in the global cycling of mercury are related to exchange processes between the atmosphere, terrestrial, and aquatic ecosystems; atmospheric dry deposition including plant uptake, re-emissions, and oxidation processes; methylation and demethylation particularly in oceans; and residence and turnover times in terrestrial and aquatic environments.

The Future of the Planet: Climate Change, Mercury Pollution, & Environmental Protection

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Gina McCarthy, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator under President Obama
When: Wednesday, July 19, 2017 — 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Where: Rhode Island Convention Center in Exhibition Hall C

A career public servant in both Democratic and Republican administrations, Gina McCarthy has been a leading advocate for common sense strategies to protect public health and the environment for more than thirty years. As the head of EPA under President Obama, she led historic progress to achieve the administration’s public health and environmental protection goals and Climate Action Plan. In 2015, McCarthy signed the Clean Power Plan, which set the first-ever national standards for reducing carbon emissions from existing power plants, underscoring the country’s commitment to domestic climate action and spurring international efforts that helped secure the Paris Climate Agreement. During Gina McCarthy’s tenure, EPA initiatives cut air pollution, protected water resources, reduced greenhouse gases and strengthened chemical safety to better protect more Americans, especially the most vulnerable, from negative-health impacts associated with environmental pollutants. Internationally, McCarthy worked with the UN and WHO on a variety of efforts and represented the U.S. on global initiatives to reduce high risk sources of pollution. Known for her pragmatic approaches and disarming, plain-speaking style, McCarthy has earned the respect of the environmental, public health and business communities with her thorough understanding of all sides of climate, air quality, chemical safety, environmental justice and health equity, and water, land and natural resource protection and restoration issues. A gifted communicator and strategist with a talent for making environmental issues nonpartisan, highly personal, and solidly backed by science and the law, McCarthy is consistently credited with finding common ground and forging sustainable, common sense solutions.

Challenges and Opportunities for Managing Aquatic Mercury Pollution in Altered Landscapes

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Heileen Hsu-Kim, Duke University; Chris Eckley, EPA (et al)
When: Thursday, July 20, 2017 — 8:30 am – 9:30 am
Where: Rhode Island Convention Center in Exhibition Hall C

The environmental cycling of mercury can be affected by natural and anthropogenic perturbations. Of particular concern is how these perturbations increase mobilization of mercury from sites and alter the formation and bioaccumulation of methylmercury, the toxic form of mercury for humans and wildlife. The scientific community has made significant advances in recent years in understanding the processes contributing to the risk of methyl mercury in the environment. These discoveries include a better understanding of how landscape changes (e.g. forestry practices, urbanization) can influence mobilization of mercury. Moreover, recent research has yielded insights on the response times scales for ecosystems experiencing changes in mercury loadings to surface waters, as well as loadings of other relevant constituents that influence mercury biogeochemical cycling and methyl mercury accumulation in aquatic organisms. While fish consumption is a major path of methyl mercury exposure for humans, we now know that rice can be a major route of exposure for certain populations. However, the extent of exposure and factors influencing methyl mercury bioaccumulation in rice still needs to be realized.

A synthesis of how global change drivers modulate mercury exposure, bioaccumulation, and adverse outcomes in wildlife and humans

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Collin Eagles-Smith, United States Geological Survey; Ellen Silbergeld, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (et al)
When: Friday, July 21, 2017 — 8:30 am – 9:30 am
Where: Rhode Island Convention Center in Exhibition Hall C

The complex cycle of mercury and its bioavailable form, methylmercury, in the environment, coupled with its variable toxicokinetics and diverse manifestations of adverse effects, complicate the determination of ecological and human health risk because mercury often does not follow linear pathways of release-exposure-effects. Instead, both ecological and socioeconomic factors influence the direction and magnitude of mercury exposure and bioaccumulation through food webs (and to humans), whereas environmental stressors interact with mercury to shape the onset and extent of adverse effects associated with exposure. Human behavior and socioeconomic variables also affect exposure and outcomes on local, regional, and global scales.