Mercury is used by mankind since early history. Traces of mercury are found in Mayan tomb and many other historical sites. Mercury is released to the atmosphere through
various ways including industrial process, mining, cement and metal production, combustion of fossil fuel etc.
Though essential in various industrial processes, mercury is harmful to health. Once released, mercury travels great distances and circulates in the atmosphere between air, water, sediments, soil and living organisms. Through agricultural products and seafood mercury can enter human body. Swordfish and sharks carry more accumulated mercury than other seafood.
The infamous Minamata disease claimed many lives and maimed many. According to Japanese Official government figure as of March 2001 total of 1,784 had died and over 10,000 effected people were compensated. The disease was caused by the release of methylmercury in the industrial wastewater from the Chisso Corporation’s chemical factory.
459 people are known to have died in Iraq during early 70s due to mercury poisoning caused by consuming contaminated bread of which the grains were treated with fungicide containing mercury.
On 19th January 2013 United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) agreed by a treaty to regulate mercury to protect the world of health hazard.
The new binding rules signed by more than 140 countries at Geneva will primarily focus on
- the supply of and trade in mercury;
- the use of mercury in products and industrial processes;
- the measures to be taken to reduce emissions from artisanal and small-scale gold mining;
- the measures to be taken to reduce emissions from power plants and metals production facilities.
By 2020 many mercury containing products will be banned from production, import or export which includes
- Batteries, except for button cell batteries used in implantable medical devices
- Switches and relays
- Certain type of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)
- Mercury in cold cathode fluorescent lamps and external electrode fluorescent lamps
- Soaps and Cosmetics
- Non electric medical devices such as thermometers and blood pressure devices
Dental amalgam also will be phased out.
Exceptions are there for some vaccines where mercury is used as a preservative and have been excluded from the treaty as have products used in religious or traditional activities.
For more information visit http://unep.org/
Suggested readings : Mercury Time to Act
- Groundbreaking Mercury Treaty Adopted By 140 Countries (businessinsider.com)
- U.N. clinches global deal on cutting mercury emissions (reuters.com)