THE MINAMATA CONVENTION ON MERCURY – WORKING FOR A SAFER WORLD
The Minamata Convention on Mercury was adopted in October 2013 and has been signed by 128 countries. The Convention is expected to enter into force early in 2017 after 50 countries commit to follow the obligations of the Convention. Obligations under the Convention include restrictions on the export of mercury by Parties, phasing out certain mercury-added products and stopping the use of certain processes that use mercury. Emissions of mercury to air from specified sources, and releases of mercury to land and soil are controlled under the Convention. There are obligations in relation to storing mercury prior to its use, on how mercury waste is managed and also on the management of contaminated sites. The Convention includes provisions for financial resources, capacity building, technical assistance and technology transfer, as well as the establishment of a compliance and implementation committee which will consider cases where countries may not be following the Convention requirements.
As Governments implement the Convention, their actions will decrease the anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury. Supporting Governments in these actions require not only financial support but also expert guidance. This is being provided through the development and agreement of guidance documents, which can assist countries in taking decisions on the best actions at the national level. Experts have worked on these guidance documents, which will be formally adopted by the Conference of the Parties. The contributions of the scientific community to such documents, as well as to other implementation support activities, ensures that recommendations have scientific validity, while the involvement of the relevant industry assists with ensuring practicality and a rapid take-up of measures.
Over time, the actions will reduce the environmental burden of mercury; however the timeframes involved may be very long. Direct effects on human health may be seen more rapidly in communities such as those involved in mining activities, or those affected by point sources of pollution, where local pollution levels may be high and effects may be seen more immediately. Tracking the levels of mercury in the environment and in populations will contribute to an assessment of the effectiveness of the Convention in addressing the mercury challenge, as well as assisting to have a safer world. The scientific community will have a role to play in these activities, and, working with government, industry and the environmental community will have the best opportunity to save the world from mercury.
THE GLOBAL MERCURY PARTNERSHIP AS A TOOL FOR SUPPORTING IMPLEMENTATION OF THE MINAMATA CONVENTION THROUGH ARTISANAL AND SMALL-SCALE GOLD MINING NATIONAL ACTION PLANS
The Global Mercury Partnership is a voluntary, multi-stakeholder organization dedicated to the protection of human health and the environment by reducing mercury pollution. Established by the United Nations Environment Programme Governing Council, the Partnership consists of seven areas which correspond to the major industrial sectors where mercury is used or released into the environment. An eighth partnership area focuses on the environmental fate and transport of mercury. By bringing together scientists and policymakers, and by generating objective science-based assessments, the Partnership played a critical role in the negotiations of the Minamata Convention on Mercury. The activities of the Partnership are now focused on assisting countries ratify and implement the Minamata Convention through data sharing, awareness-raising, information exchange, and capacity building. In response to calls from governments and other stakeholders, the Partnership will continue its focus on bringing together scientists, experts, and policymakers, and is seeking additional ways to keep the policy community abreast of the latest scientific research and its implications for the Minamata Convention. The Partnership also seeks to forge closer ties with the scientific community to help direct researchers to policy-relevant questions and methods of effectively communicating results to policymakers.The Global Mercury Partnership is a voluntary, multi-stakeholder organization dedicated to the protection of human health and the environment by reducing mercury pollution. Established by the United Nations Environment Programme Governing Council, the Partnership consists of seven areas which correspond to the major industrial sectors where mercury is used or released into the environment. An eighth partnership area focuses on the environmental fate and transport of mercury. By bringing together scientists and policymakers, and by generating objective science-based assessments, the Partnership played a critical role in the negotiations of the Minamata Convention on Mercury. The activities of the Partnership are now focused on assisting countries ratify and implement the Minamata Convention through data sharing, awareness-raising, information exchange, and capacity building. In response to calls from governments and other stakeholders, the Partnership will continue its focus on bringing together scientists, experts, and policymakers, and is seeking additional ways to keep the policy community abreast of the latest scientific research and its implications for the Minamata Convention. The Partnership also seeks to forge closer ties with the scientific community to help direct researchers to policy-relevant questions and methods of effectively communicating results to policymakers.
PRELIMINARY RESULTS AND LESSONS LEARNT OF THE IMPLEMENTATION OF MINAMATA INITIAL ASSESSMENT PROJECTS
The Minamata Convention on Mercury is expected to enter into force in 2017. In order to facilitate the ratification of developing countries and countries with economies in transition, the Global Environment Facility, the main financial mechanism for the Convention, provided financial support through Minamata Initial Assessment projects. So far, over 90 countries have benefitted from this assistance with the earlier projects now in their finalisation stages. The UN Development Programme, the UN Environment Programme and the UN Industrial Development Organization are the agencies through which countries have accessed these funds. Out of the current 35 parties to the Convention (January 3 2016), 19 are implementing MIAs.
With the ultimate objective to ensure countries early ratification, these projects usually have four main components, 1) establishing a multi-stakeholder national mercury team, 2) undertaking a legal review to assess the implications and changes to be considered from the Conventions obligations, 3) establishing a national mercury inventory, and 4) raising awareness of the public on the dangers of mercury exposure.
For the legal assessment, a checklist was developed by the National Resources Defence Council to ensure that issues would not be overlooked. For the inventories, the UN Environment Mercury Toolkit for Identification and Quantification of Mercury Releases is being used. Furthermore, a common template was developed by UNDP to ensure consistent reporting of MIAs results across countries.
A survey on the implementation of MIAs was designed by the concerned agencies and distributed to all the executing partners. The results show interesting trends, which include: - The establishment of a multi-stakeholder mercury task force in the countries has been generally facilitated by the transformation or revival of existing chemicals management teams. - In countries with unintentional emission sources (coal-fired power plants, smelters, cement kilns, etc), specific emission factors have to be developed instead of using the default ones in the toolkit in order to better reflect local conditions. - The difficulty to control and monitor mercury and mercury-containing products import and exports increases the uncertainty of the scale of the issue nationally, especially for countries where mercury is used in artisanal and small-scale gold mining. - Mercury-containing waste has emerged as a key issue and will require clear technical guidance for its management.
In conclusion, the survey provided information on the common issues faced by the countries when preparing for ratification of the Convention but also highlighted emerging trends, which will be useful for the development of future initiatives.
GLOBAL MERCURY SUPPLY, TRADE AND DEMAND - 2015
In response to UNEP Governing Council decision 23/9 IV, this author prepared a report with the uninspiring title, Summary of supply, trade and demand information on mercury, which was published in November 2006. That report was a valuable resource in support of the negotiations leading up to the Minamata Convention in 2013.
Since 2006 there is enhanced awareness of mercury supply, demand and trade, there are increased resources available to support the Convention and related actions, mercury export bans have been imposed by the EU and the US, there are more and stricter regulations regarding mercury-added products, etc. However, because of all of these developments, as well as to help establish a baseline as the Minamata Convention takes effect in 2017, we need an update of the global situation. UNEP has therefore contracted this author to research and publish (for the base-year 2015) an update of global supply, trade and demand information on mercury. The research will be summarized in the proposed paper, which will include the following main elements, among others.
Sources and supply: main sources come from recovery, recycling, by-product, primary mining; in addition, major stocks of mercury (e.g., from Russia) are still available periodically; export bans shut off key mercury supply sources and caused an increase in the free market price of mercury; however, continued demand (esp. ASGM) has stimulated new mining; etc.
Global and regional trade: since the export bans were implemented, mercury trading hubs have shifted from the U.S., Rotterdam and Almadn to Singapore, Turkey and Hong Kong; there is now a free market price of mercury and a closed market price in regions with export bans, which has provided an incentive for illegal exports; measures are needed to improve the available data; etc.
Global and regional demand: other than ASGM, which is relatively insensitive to the mercury price, mercury demand for most applications is declining; however, VCM and chlor-alkali have been slow in converting to mercury-free processes; the transition away from dental amalgam has met some roadblocks; former mercury recyclers are developing mercury disposal businesses; measures are needed to improve the available data; etc.
Observations and recommendations: through MIAs and NAPs, countries are improving their understanding of their mercury challenges and how to deal with them; meanwhile they need also a better understanding of Minamata restrictions, e.g., restrictions on mercury mining, not permitting mined and chlor-alkali mercury to go to ASGM; etc.
DEVELOPING MERCURY USE BASELINES AND MERCURY REDUCTION TARGETS IN NATIONAL ACTION PLANS FOR ARTISANAL AND SMALL SCALE GOLD MINING
Artisanal and small scale gold mining (ASGM) is the largest source of mercury pollution in the world. Under the Minamata Convention, countries with ASGM are obligated to create a National Action Plan (NAP) to reduce, and where feasible, eliminate the use of mercury in the sector. Over 25 countries have already begun to create their NAPs and are now grappling with the practical challenges of the development of these plans for the complex ASGM sector. Despite these challenges, countries must robustly develop two elements that are critical to creating effective NAPs: (i) a mercury use baseline for the sector, and (ii) mercury use reduction targets.
The development of a mercury use baseline requires both quantitative and qualitative approaches to field data collection, coupled with extrapolation methods, to create a national-level estimate of a mercury use in ASGM. Because some production practices can be mercury intensive and others not, the baseline needs a description of the type, prevalence and geographic distribution of various ASGM production practices. These, combined with gold production estimates, are a principle element in creating a national mercury use estimate.
Mercury use baselines are fundamental for many of the other elements required in the NAPs, and in particular can be used as the basis for establishing mercury use reduction targets. With a good mercury use and practices baseline, countries can create realistic, quantitative, time-bound reduction targets that are built upon planned interventions to transition miners away from mercury-based practices. A practical challenge is that these reduction targets must also incorporate the political dimensions of government policy toward the ASGM sector.
PUBLIC HEALTH IN ARTISANAL AND SMALL SCALE GOLD MINING COMMUNITIES: WHO GUIDANCE DOCUMENTS
Public health strategies are required to be included in national action plans, aiming to eliminate or reduce the use of mercury in artisanal and small scale gold mining, when member states declare ASGM to be significant.
WHO with PAHO, regional offices, and collaborating centers experts have been developing a set of guidance documents to address public health in ASGM communities and to promote good practice with respect to research conducted on health impacts of ASGM. The proposed model for public health strategies includes assessment of institutional capacity and health conditions among ASGM communities; and institutional capacity to plan and implement health programs for ASGM communities exposed to a large number of different hazards, including different forms of mercury and its compounds. An overview of health hazards associated with ASGM has been developed by WHO to inform on the identification of health priorities in ASGM communities, which is recommended to be conducted as a health situation assessment. Developing public health strategies on ASGM (forthcoming 2017) provides a model process and suggested areas for intervention, as a reference to support development of public health strategies, to complement guidance for the National Action Plans being developed through the United Nation Environment Program Global Mercury Partnership area on ASGM.
Recommended interventions to strengthen health systems in ASGM communities include facilitating access to public health services units as well as strengthening of core public health capacities to detect and respond to ASGM related health issues, including mercury exposures and health effects. In addition, training material for health care providers under development by WHO will include occupational and environmental health risks, targeting mercury exposures and health effects, with attention to special groups such as children, elderly and women of reproductive age - health promotion activities for exposure prevention are a key element for capacity building.
The health sector will be involved on awareness raising and information exchange among different audiences, such as the general public, local authorities and national agencies. Information systems to support the integration of clinical and laboratory data are recommended to be implemented, targeting mercury exposure reduction in the environment and humans, and including human biomonitoring activities.
HEALTH SECTOR PROGRESS TOWARDS IMPLEMENTATION OF THE MINAMATA CONVENTION
In May 2014, the World Health Assembly adopted resolution WHA67.11on the role of WHO and ministries of health in the implementation of the Minamata Convention. WHO has already developed extensive resources to assist countries in the implementation of the health-related activities in the Minamata Convention, such as the preparation of short information documents, tools for action, norms and guidance, as well as documents for education and training, burden of disease estimates, fact sheets and question and answer sheets. Two in particular are guidance and technical materials to facilitate the phasing-out of materials containing mercury in the health sector, and support for the phasing-down of mercury use in dentistry. In cooperation with other international agencies, WHO supports implementation of mercury-related projects in 24 countries globally including 15 countries in African Region. Health is also an important component of Minamata Initial Assessment project in Central America. In addition, development of new sub-regional project involving six countries in WHO Europe is in process. Projects are aimed at protection of human health and the environment on Artisanal and Small Scale Gold Mining , health care waste and mercury containing wastes management; Some of the projects, such as the Minamata Initial Assessment, provide development of global mercury human biomonitoring scheme, and development of implementation framework for phasing down dental amalgam use, and phasing-out of mercury-containing devices from the health sector. To identify countries needs and priorities and organize trainings, a number of meetings were implemented at regional and country level: WHO Europe (2015), WHO PAHO (2015, 2016), WHO EMRO (2016), WHO AFRO for six countries (2016), and Armenia (2016).
To ensure further progress scientific support is necessary for developing guidance on article 16; for national laboratories capacity building for mercury human biomonitoring; and for preparing and updating training materials, including protocols for diagnosis and clinical support for ill-health associated with exposure to mercury and other hazards. Other perceived needs for technical support from national scientific communities include exchange of epidemiological information, awareness-raising, capacity-building and the development of guidance documents, especially as regards exposure assessment, HBM and the development of strategy and policy, scientific research on low-level exposure and indicators of occupational exposure effects, e.g. kidney functions impairments.
ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS FROM IMPLEMENTATION OF THE MINAMATA CONVENTION IN CHINA
Articles in the Minamata Convention have restricted almost all aspects of anthropogenic activities involving mercury pollution. Considering the links between different activities, comprehensive assessment of environmental benefits towards the implementation of convention will be based on mercury flow studies. We have found that embedded Hg transfers across production sectors via waste/byproduct flows reduce Hg releases to land, but lead tosecondary Hg emissions to air. In 2010, China’s Hginput reached 2643 t and approximately 1368 t of Hg was emitted/released tothe environment (to air, 633 t; water, 84 t; and land, 651 t). By using the scenarios analysis method, we forecasted that Hg input in 2030 will be reduced to 1570 t under the accelerated control technology scenario. The forbidden of primary mercury mining, submission of mercury containing products, and improvement of mercury recycle will be the main drivers to reduce mercury input, which also contribute to the decrease of mercury emissions and releases. Mercury emissions/releases to air, water, and land will reach 282 t, 40 t, and 254 t in 2030. The application of best available technologies in convention-related sources will contribute to the largest proportion of mercury reduction of atmospheric mercury emissions. Although these technologies will increase mercury input to water and land, mercury releases to water and land will still be less than that in 2010 mainly due to stricter water pollution control and wastes disposal measures. The results and conclusions will provide valuable insights and perspectives for Parties to make national action plan and implement the convention.