With more studies demonstrating the toxicity of mercury, calls for early signature of a legally binding international treaty are increasing in the run-up to the fifth meeting of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) intergovernmental negotiating committee on mercury, in Geneva, Switzerland, from 13 to 18 January. In a letter addressed to the member states' environment ministers, the European Environment Bureau (EEB), Health & Environment Alliance (HEAL) and Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) call for the urgent conclusion of a "strong" international agreement aimed at reducing global mercury pollution.

"New evidence clearly demonstrates that the mercury threat has grown substantially since the UN Environment Programme global mercury assessment report was completed just after the turn of the century. Since 2001, countries around the world have been discussing options to control mercury pollution and in 2003 the UNEP Governing Council agreed that enough was known to warrant immediate action to reduce global mercury pollution'," note the three organisations. "Now over a decade has passed and the time for bold and corrective action has come," they conclude.

A new study, released on 8 January by HEAL(1) backs up this call. It states that measures to prevent exposure to mercury could save the EU 8 billion to 9 billion a year by protecting children's brain development.

The evidence that that methyl mercury (MeHg), formed in the environment from inorganic mercury, is a neurotoxicant (harmful to the brain) is well documented. Adults in Europe are primarily exposed through eating certain fish. Mercury accumulates in large predatory fish like tuna and swordfish, usually after being released into the air as a by-product in industrial processes, such as coal burning, and then being deposited in seas and rivers.


However, notes the HEAL study, it is...

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