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Added On : 29 Jul 2021

The Minamata Convention on Mercury

What is Minamata Convention on Mercury?

The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a Multilateral Environmental Agreement (MEA) that draws attention towards the metal, Mercury. The treaty's goal is to protect the environment and human health from hazardous heavy metal emissions. The convention looks after the entire life cycle of mercury and controls its usage in a wide range of products and industries. The pact also covers the direct mining of mercury, as well as it's export and import, safe storage, and waste disposal.

This Convention was a result of three years of meetings and negotiations, after which the text of the Convention was approved by delegates representing close to 140 countries on 19 January 2013 in Geneva and adopted and signed later that year on 10 October 2013 at a Diplomatic Conference held in Kumamoto, Japan.

How did the Minamata Convention come into the act? History

The Minamata Convention is named after Minamata, a Japanese city that suffered from decades of mercury poisoning after industrial wastewater from a chemical industry was spilt into Minamata Bay. Methylmercury was found in the effluent, which bioaccumulated in the bay's fish and shellfish. Locals who ate fish from Minamata Bay fell extremely ill, and many died or were seriously crippled as a result.

A similar incident of methylmercury poisoning came from Niigata Prefecture and Canada. But the situation in Minimata drew the attention where people suffer from neurological symptoms, dizziness, headache, memory loss, hearing and vision problems, developmental disabilities, cognitive dysfunction and physical abnormalities. 

In October 2013, finally, the international convention realized the global problem of mercury pollution. It took four years to make the convention and finally on 16 August 2017, it came into force with some mandatory and elective measures. The convention consists of 35 articles, 5 annexes and a preamble. Out of 135 parties to the treaty, 128 have signed it as of 2021. 

Latest Minamata Convention Meeting Conference 

The fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP-4) was decided to be organized in two-phase; the first phase was conducted online from 1-5 November 2021, seeing the COVID-19 situation and the second phase is set to be conducted in-person in Bali, Indonesia from 21 -25 March 2022 by Rosa Vivien Ratnawati as the President of COP-4.

Need for the Global Responses 

Risk of Mercury on humans and the environment

Mercury is an element found organically in nature. It can be released into the environment from both natural and human sources, including weathering of mercury-containing rocks, forest fires, volcanic eruptions, and geothermal activity. Each year, an estimated 5500-8900 tonnes of mercury are emitted and re-emitted into the atmosphere, with much of the re-emitted mercury, as well as the direct releases, being linked to human activities.

With its unique properties to remain liquid at room temperature and easily infuse with other metals, it has been known to utilize for scientific, medical and day to day purposes, to name a few, in house paints, to treat syphilis, as a contraceptive, as a sedative, in cosmetics, to extract gold, in producing PVC, used in electrical switches, fluorescent light bulbs, dental amalgam.

But what we failed to realize is its toxic nature, human activities had increased the atmospheric concentration by about 450 % above the natural. And once mercury arrives in soils and waterways, microbes convert it into methylmercury, the most poisonous form of the element, which builds up in the food chain. And when people eat contaminated seafood they get exposed to methylmercury resulting in a devastating effect.

Why Global Response is needed?

Mercury contamination is a worldwide issue that necessitates international action. It travels by air and water, crosses national boundaries, and can travel thousands of miles through the atmosphere. Hence domestic efforts are not enough to curb the pollution, global communities have to come together to address this issue before it slips out of the hand. 
Mercury has a long environmental shelf life and a global pathway, as it cycles between the atmosphere, the ocean, and land. This is why the international community chose a global response strategy to tackle the mercury problem throughout its entire life cycle.

The Minamata Convention requires party nations to:

  • Minimise and eradicate the use and release of mercury from artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM).
  • Manage and control mercury emissions from power plants, waste incineration, industrial boilers, from the production of non-ferrous metals.
  • Reduce the use of mercury from batteries, lights, pesticides, switches, dental amalgam, and cosmetics.
  • Bring down mercury use from manufacturing processes including vinyl chloride monomer production, Chlor-alkali production and so on.
  • Include provisions for proper technical support, knowledge share, promote public awareness and conduct research and development.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Minamata Mercury convention and what are its goals?

The Minamata Convention on Mercury is an international environmental treaty that focuses on particular human activities that contribute to mercury contamination. This agreement's implementation will aid in the reduction of worldwide mercury pollution in the next decades. 

Who signed the Minamata Convention?

On the first day of the Minamata Convention European Union and 86, countries signed the convention. Out of 135 parties to the treaty, 128 have signed it as of 2021.

How many countries signed the Minamata Convention?

As of now, 105 parties and 128 Signatories are part of the Minamata Convention.


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