The United States is pleased to have worked with more than one hundred and forty other governments to adopt an historic agreement on mercury that will help protect not only the health of the U.S. public, but human health and the environment all over the world. Mercury warrants global attention due to its long-range atmospheric transport, its persistence in the environment, and its significant negative effect on human health and the environment. Mercury exposure is a major public health threat, particularly for children and women of child-bearing age. Mercury can damage or impair the functioning of nerve tissue and even permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus. According to most estimates, global sources contribute at least 70 percent of total U.S. mercury deposition.
The agreement, known as the Minamata Convention on Mercury, calls for the reduction of mercury emissions to the air and a decrease in the use of mercury in products and industrial processes. It will help reduce the supply of mercury by, among other things, ending primary mercury mining. The Convention will ensure environmentally sound storage of mercury and disposal of waste. The agreement also calls on governments to address the use of mercury in small-scale gold mining, which uses and releases large amounts of mercury.
“We are very pleased with the outcome of these negotiations. Transboundary air emissions are a significant global challenge that no single country can solve on its own,” said Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Kerri-Ann Jones. “This agreement is an enormous success that will allow us to work together in coming years with countries around the world to make a meaningful difference in addressing mercury pollution.”
The Minamata Convention negotiations ended in Geneva, Switzerland, on January 19, following four years of negotiation efforts. The convention will be open for signature at a Diplomatic Conference in Japan in October. The name of the convention pays respect to Minamata, the Japanese city that experienced severe mercury pollution in the mid-20th century. Many local citizens of Minamata suffered from a neurological syndrome caused by mercury poisoning, which became known as Minamata disease, from consuming contaminated fish and shellfish from Minamata Bay.