Golden Opportunity to Deal With Poisonous Quicksilver Pollution
By Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director
This month the world's environment ministers meeting in Nairobi, Kenya can take a landmark decision to lift a global health threat from the lives of literally hundreds of millions of people.
A strategy to begin seriously dealing with the heavy metal mercury and its highly toxic compounds is to come before the UN Environment Programme's Governing Council when it meets from 16 February.
The 'policy framework', the result of seven years of intense discussions spearheaded by UNEP represents the first, coordinated global effort to tackle mercury pollution.
It covers reducing demand in products and processes- such as high intensity discharge vehicle lamps and the chlor-alkali industry—to cutting mercury in international trade.
Other elements include reducing emissions to the atmosphere; environmentally-sound storage of stockpiled mercury and the cleaning-up of contaminated sites.
The ministers equally need to decide how such actions should be realized—some, like the European Union member states are pressing for an international, legally binding treaty whereas others want to accelerate an essentially voluntary approach.
Action is long overdue according to our assessments. Mercury's impacts on the human nervous system has been known for over a century—the Mad Hatter of Alice in Wonderland fame was so called because hat-makers used the liquid metal to strengthen brims, breathing in the poisonous fumes.