Mercury treaty in the offing

14 January 2013 - 02:02 By Sapa-AP
UN Economic and Social Council. File photo
UN Economic and Social Council. File photo

Delegates from more than 130 nations yesterday began a final round of negotiations on the the creation of the first legally binding international treaty to reduce mercury emissions.

The treaty would set enforceable limits on the emissions of mercury, a highly toxic metal that is widely used in chemical production and small-scale mining, particularly artisanal gold production.

Swiss diplomat Franz Perrez, whose nation helped prompt the call for the treaty, said yesterday in Geneva they were "confident that we will be able to conclude here this week" with a final document that nations will adopt later this year.

Fernando Lugris of Uruguay, who chairs the negotiations, said the six-day conference, that has drawn almost 900 delegates and dozens of nongovernmental organisations from around the world, had already agreed on a draft text to be used this week for negotiations.

The UN Environment Programme reported last week that mercury pollution in the top layer of the oceans had doubled in the past century, part of a man-made problem that will require international cooperation to fix.

The report by the UN Environment Programme, which is helping sponsor the treaty talks, showed for the first time that hundreds of tons of mercury have leaked from the soil into rivers and lakes around the world.

Communities in developing countries faced increasing health and environmental risks linked to exposure to mercury, which comes from sources such as coal burning and the use of mercury to separate metal from ore in small-scale gold mining, the UN agency said.

Mercury concentrations pose the greatest risk of nerve damage to pregnant women, women of childbearing age and young children.