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Friday, May 19, 2017

Quicksilver bullet: New convention to slow the flow of mercury/UN Environment

One of the great aspects of building a cleaner, brighter future is looking at our growing ability to turn liabilities into assets--such as converting brownstone sites to vibrant commercial centers, the entire world of recycling, waste-to-energy facilities and many more.  Here's the latest--a positive conversion of mercury, a particularly pernicious chemical:

It has no safe level of exposure, is one of the top 10 health threats in the world, and is used to produce a wide array of products and processes. The world’s poorest people, along with babies and unborn children, are most vulnerable to its poisonous effects. Yet there are viable substitutes available for its use. The Minamata Convention comes into force on 16 August 2017, with the aim of tipping the scale in favour of controlling the entire life-cycle of mercury use. 

Like millions of people around the world, Maria, who is in her thirties and lives in Tarza, Colombia, spends her evenings using an online university. She’s studying philosophy in the hope of getting a better job and a better future for her young son— and their long-term health depends on it.

Because Maria isn’t like most students. Her husband was killed during the conflict in Colombia and she had to flee the violence with their baby boy. Now she mines gold to survive – part of a global industry of artisanal and small-scale mining that is one of the most significant sources of man-made mercury pollution.

Colombia produces about 5 per cent of the world’s gold, but uses about 20 per cent of the world’s mercury supply to do it. As most of the gold is produced illegally, there’s no protection for workers like Maria or their families. Many miners are contaminated from handling it directly; many more people live with mercury contaminated water, soil and air.

Maria started mining nine years ago and her son has grown up in this environment.

Today, Maria hopes the peace process in Colombia can finally bring new opportunities for her region.

“What we need, more than anything else, is employment,” she said. “We don’t want handouts. For peace to come to this region, we need dignified work.”
Maria is one of up to 15 million workers in 70 different countries exposed to mercury through mining, including up to 5 million children. Small and artisanal gold mining is mostly an unregulated, informal sector, and often takes place where there is little other work.

But the sector and its workers have reason to hope that things will get better.
This week, the Minamata Convention clocked up 50 ratifications, meaning it will come into force on 16 August 2017.

The Convention, which has been signed by 128 countries, commits Parties to specific measures to control mercury pollution, one of the top 10 threats to human health globally.

It is the first new global Convention related to the environment and health in close to a decade, and covers the entire “lifecycle” of man-made mercury pollution. Obligations include banning new mercury mines, phasing-out existing ones, regulating artisanal and small-scale gold mining, and reducing emissions and mercury use. Since the element is indestructible, the Convention also lays out conditions for interim storage and disposal of mercury waste....


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