Environmental agreement on global reduction of mercury use

On May 18th, in New York, the Netherlands will be ratifying an environmental treaty that addresses the dangers of mercury. By doing so, together with six other European member states, the required quota of 50 ratifications will be attained, and in 90 days, the treaty will come into effect across the globe. Stringent regulations are already in force in Europe. The UN Minamata treaty now ensures that every country will have to observe strict rules regarding the trade in mercury. In addition, it sets out limits regarding mercury content in products such as thermometers and lamps. It also restricts the use of this substance in production processes such as foam rubber manufacturing. The mercury treaty dates from 2013 and has been signed by 128 countries, including the Netherlands.

During the Dutch Presidency of the European Union in 2016, Minister Dijksma (Infrastructure and the Environment) placed this topic on the agenda in order to induce the member states to ratify the treaty quickly. ‘The danger of mercury that is released is evident, and we need to do everything we can to reduce the risks. This treaty ensures that upcoming economies will now also need to take their own responsibility in handling this dangerous substance,’ says Ms Dijksma. ‘For example, mercury is still used widely in small-scale gold mining, entailing great risks for people and the environment. This treaty curbs its use internationally.’
 
The dangers of mercury came to light during an environmental catastrophe in the Japanese coastal resort of Minimata, 61 years ago. Many people died from eating fish with an extremely high mercury content from a factory discharge. Mercury is a heavy metal and extremely harmful to human health and environmental organisms. Mercury that is released can spread over long distances through the air and in water. For example, in the Swedish lakes, fishing used to be prohibited for a long time, because the fish contained too much mercury from Chinese coal plant emissions.
 
Today, the Netherlands will submit the so-called instrument of acceptance to the Secretary General of the United Nations in New York. Together with the instruments from Malta, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Sweden and Denmark, that are also being submitted today, this will bring the total number of ratifications to 51.