The European Parliament has given its formal consent to a revised EU regulation on mercury which will see member states ratifying the Minamata Convention ahead of the first Conference of Parties (COP) scheduled for September in Geneva.
Led by GUE/NGL Rapporteur Stefan Eck on behalf of the Parliament, the vote concludes six months of intensive negotiations with the European Council on limiting the use of mercury and its compounds in the EU.
Speaking about his report, Eck was quick to underline the importance of the protection of public health and the environment:
“Mercury is among the ten most harmful naturally-occurring substances on our planet. Even small amounts of mercury can lead to serious harm.”
“Thousands, including children, had their nervous system damaged in the Japanese city of Minamata during the 1950s because of mercury-contaminated wastewater dumped by surrounding factories. This shows that we need robust policies to limit the use of mercury rather than cosmetic changes.”
“I therefore urge member states to ratify the Minamata Convention on Mercury as soon as possible and to do so with ambition.”
The German MEP expressed satisfaction with the position adopted back in October by the European Parliament's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) despite the Council succeeding in diluting some of the proposals during the subsequent negotiations:
“My work was broadly supported by the ENVI committee and this showed that the majority of MEPs understood the importance of this report. The compromise made at the end of the second trialogue negotiation with the Council is not as ambitious and it reflects the interests of German industry. I was prepared to go for a third round of negotiations to defend the Parliament’s position.”
“Nevertheless the updated regulation will bring about reductions to the use of mercury, putting an end to its use in dentistry for children under 15 years old and pregnant women, further reducing mercury trade and phasing out mercury from chemicals. The agreement will add pressure on governments to identify and clean up thousands of sites contaminated by mercury across Europe,” Eck added
Meanwhile, Finnish MEP Merja Kyllönen said that the Convention is of particular importance for Nordic countries:
“Mercury spreads easily and accumulates in polar areas which makes this report of particular importance for Arctic countries. Mercury is also released to the environment through fossil fuel, particularly coal. We must therefore tackle mercury on every level – from mining to waste management. In other words, our approach must be all-encompassing and this is what we achieved with the proposals.”
Portuguese MEP João Ferreira also summed up the main dangers of mercury:
“Mercury is one of the biggest polluters in the world. It has significant and lasting effects on human health and the environment. The World Health Organisation says there are no safe limits for exposure to this heavy metal with about two to three thousand tonnes of mercury ending up in the atmosphere every year from human activity.”
“The result is that the food chain can be contaminated with methylmercury, the most toxic kind of mercury. Therefore restrictions on the use of mercury including export, import, storage and production of products and processes are completely necessary,” Ferreira concluded.